Writing Likable Characters

We all want our readers to be invested in our stories. When a reader invests in your story, they are investing in a continued journey with you as a writer. Besides having someone thoroughly enjoy the work that you put so much effort into, having an invested reader can lead to great opportunities such as representation and publication if you’re seeking a more traditional means of publishing, or a loyal fan-base and more clout on social media if you’ve chosen to go with self-publication. Either way, only good things can come for you and your book if you have invested readers. 

But what is the key to success to capturing the hearts of readers? One of the easiest ways to get a reader completely on board with your book is to create likable and relatable characters. Think of all the books that you personally like – how many of them can you honestly say you like them for reasons other than the characters? Sure, the Harry Potter series is cool and JK Rowling outdid herself when she created the wizarding world, but if you stripped all the magic away, you’d be left with only the characters. And that was truly the heart of the books. It was Harry, Hermoine, and Ron that stole our hearts and made us want to keep reading. You can try to counter argue, but deep down you know it’s true. Take any story of any genre and strip away the fantastical settings, the plot twists, the romances, etc. and you’ll see that it’s the characters that are always at the heart of all our beloved books. 

But what is it about certain main characters that resonate with us and make us feel invested in their stories? All these beloved main characters and side characters that we love to discuss at length with friends, cosplay at events, or make fanart for; the one thing that they all have in common is their likability and relatability. So how do you go about creating characters that people like and want to follow?

Here are some tips:

Vulnerability– giving your character a vulnerability is one of the easiest ways to get your character to resonate with readers. This vulnerability can either be a physical one like a handicap or an emotional one. Either way, seeing a character struggle with their own weaknesses, hopes, limitations, or fears is always a way to get readers to see themselves in a character. 

Backstory– kind of lining up a bit with the vulnerability point is backstory. Introducing a why for the character’s actions or thoughts is always a way to make them seem relatable. And looking to their backstory is a good place to start. This is particularly helpful if you want to write an antagonist that is well-rounded and not just a straight up A-hole. Sometimes some of the best villains have some of the saddest or complicated backstories. Take the most recent Joker film. This is a perfect example of a well-rounded villain. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bad guy, but getting to see his origins definitely helps us better understand his motivations. And in doing so we end up feeling bad for him – something that ends up making him more relatable in our eyes.  

Failure– letting your main character fail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can definitely help the relatability of a character. We’ve all faced failure within our own lives. We all love an underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Let your character fail and make a courageous comeback. Their resilience will speak volumes with readers because we’ve all been there. 

Morals– most for the heroes of our stories making them be nice helps a bit. We want to think of characters as being generally nice. Characters that show kindness, generosity, or selflessness are generally seen as “good” and you want your characters to be good. No one likes a character that will kick a puppy and laugh. Of course, steer clear of making them a goodie-two-shoes. Some character flaws do make them more “human.” Also, don’t be afraid of giving your villains some morals too. Just because you have a supervillain who wants to destroy the world doesn’t mean that they can’t have a moment of selflessness. How many times do we end up liking villains after they end up redeeming themselves by showing a selfless side to them? Think Shadow Weaver’s sacrifice of herself to save Adora and Catra in Netflix’s She-ra. Personally, I shed a tear at that.

Humor– whether they’re self-deprecating, snarky, or just plain silly, giving your characters some sort of sense of humor makes them relatable to readers. We all love to laugh. It’s the next universal language besides love. So, it only stands to reason that readers would gravitate towards characters that have a funny side to them. And so long as their humor is true to the character’s personality, it will resonate with audiences.

Self-Awareness– let’s face it, flawed characters are the best characters. But the key to a good flawed character is that they’ve got enough self-awareness to be able to say sorry once in a while for their shortcomings. Giving your characters, particularly your heroes and heroines, a moment of “yeah I know I’m an A-hole sometimes but I’m trying” can definitely help readers cut them some slack for some of their more morally questionable actions. 

Fear and Pain– having a character be motivated by their fear or their pain can definitely make them relatable to readers. How many of us in our everyday lives are motivated to action by pain and fear? That 20-page college paper we’ve all written the night before it’s due was definitely written on pure motivation from fear of failure and a painful lack of sleep. Having characters move through plot points based off their fear and pain will definitely make them relatable. After all, nothing is more human in this life than feeling pain and fear, which is why our characters must feel these things too. 

Spooky Inspirations

Here are ideas on how to create a spooky novel!

I recommend the following books such as On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Horror- the collection of essays by the Horror Writers Association, and Writing the Paranormal Novel- Techniques and Exercises by Steven Harper. These books go into real detail about the paranormal. Within this genre, there is more freedom to create what you want whether that be a sparkly vampire, toothy werewolf, or chain rattling ghost.

After you read these books, highlight the advice, and incorporate the advice into your writing. For a good story about a ghoul of choice to be believed, it must be believable and written well. All stories benefit from good writing. Be consistent about the traits, superpowers, or awesome abilities your monster has. We all know vampires hate garlic and sleep in coffins, but maybe a coffin-shaped bookcase could be their nesting habit during the daytime.

Read widely in your chosen genre. That will let you know what has already been written by other authors.

Buy a new set of highlighters, pens, white out, a binder, paper, and a fresh bag of coffee. Do what it takes to make you commit to the writing for the long haul.

Clean your writing/ office space. Light some sage and clean the energy to allow for the creative energies to flow unimpeded. Light a candle or incense. Play music that inspires you as you create your ghoul or axe-wielding maniac. Create a special playlist and soundtrack. Know your monster! Make it consistent and believable.

Keep a routine when you sit down to work on your story.

Reach into the deepest darkest part of your imagination. Free write a scene of confrontation between your protagonist and your monster. Or the monster is the protagonist? These days your demon or ghoul needs to be ORIGINAL. Everything in the paranormal novel has been done … or has it? That part is up to you. It must be original. If you are seeking more inspiration, read the paper. Clip and keep newspaper articles.
For example, I published a short story about pumpkins that can eat people. The vines can extend themselves and the pumpkins were toothy and bloodthirsty. Talk about a real twist on our favorite squashes!

But by allowing yourself to imagine, you may invent something that no one has done before. That is a huge advantage in the field of writing and publishing. Being original and true to your monster is extremely important. The world wants to read a story that has never been written before. They do not want thirty knockoffs of It or The Babaduk.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this. It might spark an idea or two and you would then be on your way to writing a gothic novel like Northanger Abbey or something like the Pit and the Pendulum by Poe.

Good Luck!

Starting Out Writing Sci-Fi

Given recent world events that we are living through, we may start to feel a little bit like we’re living through an episode of “Black Mirror” or something akin to science fiction. Some of us writers may even be finding ourselves tempted to foray into the genre of sci-fi just based off the fact that we have so much inspiration around us with the current pandemic that is going on. So, if you’re feeling the call of inspiration and want to try your hand at writing either a sci-fi short story, novella, or novel, below are the five elements that make up the genre of science fiction:

1. World Building

Ok, first things first. World-building is a big portion of sci-fi. Very similar to fantasy, people who read sci-fi are ready and willing to accept the impossible as possible – provided there is a plausible explanation for everything. In order to do this, you need to really build your world and make it authentic and believable. Don’t worry about using elements that have already been done – such as flying cars – just be sure to put your own spin on something that is already familiar in order to keep it fresh.

2. Unfamiliarity

Sci-fi tends to take us into a territory of unfamiliarity. It takes parts of our own world that are familiar to us – we’ll use the flying cars example again – and twists it around to make it unfamiliar and new to readers. Of course, this is where world-building really plays a major role in bringing everything to life because in sci-fi, the setting is very much integrated into the plot of the story. Furthermore, the setting also affects the action of the story as well as the characters’ lives.

3. Plausible Foundation

Believability is key when creating your world. It’s sci-fi, it’s based in science, therefore your world has to make sense. You can’t introduce futuristic technology without plausible scientific explanations for how it works. For example, you can’t write a story where humans colonize Jupiter and walk around the planet without spacesuits because it wouldn’t be believable – your audience would know that’s not possible. Of course, if you have explained that over thousands of years of terraforming, humans managed to change the atmosphere of Jupiter enough that they could get away with walking around sans spacesuits, then you have a much better story forming. Of course, in order to plausibly explain everything in your sci-fi story, you’ll probably have to conduct a bit of research. Additionally, you’ll probably also want to create a timeline of events in order to keep track of everything that happened in order to be able to avoid plot hole popping up in your story because let’s be real…setting a story 1,000 years in the future is going to have a lot of history happen in between that explain why and how things are the way they are in the present point of your story. Therefore, creating a timeline for yourself will very much help keep things linear. Of course, you don’t have to add in all 1,000 years worth of history to your story (you’re not writing a pretend history book) just the bits that make sense to add because they explain certain technologies or elements in your story.

4. Scientific Principles

Sci-fi isn’t really a genre that leaves much wiggle room for breaking laws and rules, more like gently bending them. If you do bend them, you need to be able to back it up with a plausible scientific explanation to explain it. For example, you can’t break the rule of gravity on Earth. However, you can bend the rule that Mars in uninhabitable to humans. What you need to remember when writing your story is to adhere to the scientific laws of physics and chemistry in order to ensure that the world you create can be plausibly explained in theory.

5. Character’s Reactions

Just like when you write any story, you want to do more showing, rather than telling. Of course, when you have a story that is set in another world, it’s hard to stay away from the tendency to want to explain everything. But a great way to show what is going on in your world rather than tell your audience about it, is to use your characters. Your characters using a teleportation device as easily as they would an elevator is a great way to show that teleporting has been around for a while, rather than telling your readers that it’s been a thing for years. Using a character’s reaction is good for gauging what’s old technology in your world and what’s new without explaining things to your audience. It’s a story you’re writing, not a history book.

Magical Scribbles

Writing about witchcraft is magical and hard work. Establish a sacred writing space. Burn essential oils or incense as you write. Play soft music. Decide on the angle you will take with your book or article. The market is replete with Wicca 101 books and witchcraft. Many accomplished authors such as Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi, Laurie Cabot, and Deborah Blake have already covered many subjects. They live what they write and lead magical lives. They have proven themselves to be authorities on what they write. If you do the same, you can achieve your dreams.
When you are confident you have polished the article, your story needs a home. I recommend reading the two books How to write for the New Age Market by Richard Webster and The Pagan Writers’ Guide by Melusine Draco. These books show you what to write and where to send your magical words. Some markets to write for are Eternal Haunted Summer Ezine, Sagewoman magazine, and Witches and Pagans magazine.
Editors are swamped with writing-related tasks. Write something basic to start with until you grow more confident. My writing has appeared in anthologies and Ezines. The witchcraft and mind/body/spirit writing market mostly center around non-fiction. Most of the markets are in the United States and prefer non-fiction. An important question is what to write, why, and for what audience. In depth writing will grant you that coveted byline. They prefer that you share your research sources.
If you are aspiring to write a book on witchcraft, the best publishing companies are Llewellyn, Moon Books, Weiser Books, New Page books, Immanion Press, Inner Traditions, and Avalonia Books. Avalonia publishes scholarly material. The best way to familiarize yourself is by reading what they publish.
Keep track of where you send your writing and never give up. The most successful people are the ones who kept trying. When an editor expresses an interest in your writing, be ready.
The last stop on our broomstick ride is your perspective of witchcraft. To succeed in this market, have a reverence for witchcraft. To write for this market, you need to have an awareness for it and live it. Most of the editors and writers have a lot of experience and practice it regularly. They not only write it, but live it fully and deeply. Now you can have magic in your life and in the lives of your readers.

Gothic Poetry

I like to write gothic poetry. Gothic poetry has a fascinating history, thanks to the writings of Tennyson and Thomas Gray. If you are a lover of the dark side, and enjoy music such as Inkubus Succubus and romantic poetic musings, then I hope this post inspires you to pen dark verse of your own.

Once I walked home past a cemetery on a  magical cold winter night. The chilling glow of the streetlight over the tombstones woke the muse in me. I went home and wrote a poem about what I saw that night.

Surround yourself in an environment that inspires you to write dark verse. I live in a city well-known for its dark spooky history. I visit my favorite cemetery, Mount Olivet, carrying a thermos, a journal, and my pen. Graveyard tours are offered in my hometown. Put away the laptop or phone for an hour or two. Grab a journal, a quill pen, and latte-and go!

Now, once you are comfortably seated in a cemetery, sipping your latte, open your senses to the environment. Hear the bird songs, the creaking tree boughs, see the crows – crows are always hanging around in a cemetery. I think it has something to do with them being messengers of the dead–if you believe in that. Write down your verses. Therefore, it’s great to use a journal rather than a tablet. You can be messier and more creative. It frees up your creative expression.

Observe the way the crows perch on tombstones, how old the tombstones are. I once found an abandoned bird’s nest in a cemetery. Notice the age of the trees, colorful leaves, or flowers at the foot of a grave. A moth flitting over the ground, birds pecking for seeds, crows screeching from the treetops. A crow nest lives in the cemetery in my neighborhood. The nest has been there a long time.

Once, I strolled through Mount Olivet. An apple tree grows inside and outside of the cemetery. A fallen apple lay on the ground. Dead carpenter ants rested on the apple- except for one carpenter ant that crawled over the rotted apple. It churned my stomach. I left.

The Titanic victims are buried there. A word of caution: remain grounded and centered while you are there. Take what you like and leave the bad energy behind.

The quiet of a cemetery can be relaxing. They are not dangerous places, but people should still use common sense. If you do want to write there, go during the day. Safety trumps all. Don’t disturb the graves or take anything that doesn’t belong to you.

This may hopefully lead you to create a poetry chapbook!