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. 

Why You Should Keep Improving Your Skills #3

In life, everything is constantly changing. This applies to books and their current trending genres. One week, fairies are topping the charts, but the next, Greek goddesses have taken over. Depending what genre those examples delve in, the writing is different. Gone are the days when Tolkien’s style of writing was popular. Now, stories told from a First Person POV and leaning heavily towards romance are selling the best. Those two elements can be applied to any setting and genre, but only if you know how to execute it.

Reading in your genre is the best way to see what readers are looking for. As the saying goes, readers want to read the same exact thing, but with minor changes and some originality. Once they pick up a book by you, they expect the others to be similarly written.

If you’re expecting to sell a lot of books, it’s best to stick with the current writing styles of authors topping the charts. It’s a personal decision to attempt getting a book into all of the current trends. Sliding into even one of them will drastically boost your ratings and get the attention of new readers.

At this point, you may be getting a bit defensive at the fact you should improve your skills. There is a vast difference between style and skill. Style is the art of the storytelling. Your style may always be changing or you may have nailed it down earlier on. The skill is the execution of the writing and should always be improving.

In order to succeed, your writing skills will need to constantly be advanced. There’s not enough room for the famous “show, don’t tell” speech here, but you can find our previous articles for reference: Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling and Show, Don’t Tell.

Continued from
Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books

The Great Debate: FanFic

Fan Fiction. Where do you stand on the big debate? I am personally neutral on the matter, as I see the arguments to both sides, but I’m still curious. How do other writers feel about fan fiction?

By its very definition, fan fiction, or fanfic, is a written genre where canonical elements such as characters, settings, plot lines, or specific scenes from already published works are then used to create new fiction. Given this piggybacking nature of the genre, the whole concept of fanfic has stirred a great debate amongst authors, publishers, and readers as to whether or not fanfic is blatant plagiarism or a form of inspiration on which to build new work? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

On one side of the debate, there are those who are absolutely against it. And perhaps one of the biggest arguments against fanfic is that many see it as plagiarism. Most people who argue against allowing fanfic to be a thing, see it a direct rip-off of work that has already been published. There are plenty of authors, such as George R. R. Martin, who greatly despise fanfic. And I’m sure we can all see that argument, why write about someone else’s characters when you can just create your own? 

Another argument against fanfic is that it’s all just sexualized trash based off different ships. For anyone who may have forayed into a fandom to check out some fanfic, you know what I’m talking about. If you were to google Harry Potterfanfic right now, I guarantee you that 90% of it will be Harry getting it on with Ron, Harry and Hermione, Draco and Hermione, or Harry and Draco. Either way, a lot of fanfic does seem to go the way of the ships – whether they make sense or not (Adam Taurus and Blake Belladonna anyone?).

But there is a counter argument in favor of fanfic. Mostly, some people see it as a stepping stone to other, more authentic works of fiction. The best example of this in our modern day is 50 Shades of Grey. What started off as Twilightfanfic ended up taking on a life of its own. And regardless of how you feel about the series, there is no denying the massive success it experienced once the characters morphed into Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

With that in mind, there are plenty of fanfic writers who would argue that its simply an exercise in aspiring writers to practice their development of original writing. Writers all have to start somewhere, so by using fanfic as a sort of memetic exercise, one could argue that fanfic writing allows aspiring writers the chance to better understand how to construct a work of fiction, by essentially rearranging a favorite work of theirs. This time of response shows fanfic in a more approachable light as it establishes writing not as the focus of a perfect, finished product, but rather as a process. 

So, with that in mind, the great debate continues. What do you guys as both writers and readers think? Are you in favor of fanfic? Are you against it? Or are you like me and pretty neutral on the whole thing? 

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!

 

Show, Don’t Tell

When I was home in California last Christmas, I was clearing out a box of my things at my parents’ house. As a writer, sometimes it’s fun to look back at your earliest work and see how far you’ve come. I got to go over some of my earliest hits, like the very first short story I ever wrote: a ten page fantasy from fourth grade about the world’s richest rabbit. I also came upon my first manuscript ever: the historical novel I’d penned in high school. Reading through that was tragic.

It was very tough reading through my early works because I noticed I did a lot of showing, rather than telling. As you foray deeper into the world of writing, you’ll probably come upon this critique more and more from professors, peers, or just other writers in general.

So, what does that mean exactly?

If you struggle to differentiate between showing versus telling, don’t worry because you aren’t alone. Plenty of writers struggle with it. It all refers to the actions in your story. When you “tell,” you’re basically just informing the reader of what is going on rather than letting them deduce it for themselves. In other words, you’re just supplying them the information by stating it. Think of it as being the Captain Obvious of your own story. Examples of this would be telling the reader that the character is “upset,” “hungry,” or “cold.”

Instead, showing is basically painting a word picture for the reader to see in their mind’s eye. Rather than tell the reader the character is “angry,” “hungry,” or “cold,” you describe it to them with action. So your character can “slam a door so hard a picture falls off the wall,” or they can “take a sip of water to try and quell the feeling of acid burning in their stomach,” or they can “reach for an extra blanket.”

Instead of telling your reader what is going on, try to make them an interactive part of the experience – make them be able to close their eyes and see it as if they’re reliving a memory. I mean, we’re all readers ourselves so we know there is nothing better than being a reader with an active role in the narrative.

If you need more concrete examples, I’ve written some below:

Tell: When she hugged him, she could tell he’d been smoking.

Show: As he wrapped his arms around her, the faint waft of stale tobacco hit her nose.

Tell: Emily was blind.

Show: Emily’s white cane struck the side of the curb.

Tell: It was late fall.

Show: The orange leaves crunched beneath our feet.

Tell: The man was a plumber and he asked where the kitchen was.

Show: His coveralls were stained with white paint on the left leg. Wrenches of various sizes hung down from the leather belt around his waist. “Point me towards the leak,” he said.

Tell: The date was going well and Tom let his food go cold listening to Lisa’s stories.

Show: Tom’s baked potato had lost its halo of steam as he smiled and asked, “Please tell me the end of that German hostel story.”

Now, you may be wondering if telling is ever acceptable? And yes, it is. However, keep in mind that telling is just summary narrative. It doesn’t add any value to your plot/conflict/character/tension arc, but it can be used when you have to include the mundane but necessary information. In short, you want to do a majority of showing, but sometimes you have to tell some of the smaller, less important things. It’s a writing yin and yang – showing and telling both balance each other out. You just need to figure out the balance that works for the story.