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. 

Write Like It Matters

As writers we all have our moments of doubt. When starting out with a new idea, there is always a moment of hesitation where we question if our idea is “good enough.” It’s a reoccurring fear that we have throughout the whole writing process. It’s why we downplay our work, refuse to show it to certain people, try to skirt questions, and generally act secretive about our writing. We fear ridicule and rejection – having someone confirm our worst fear that the story we care so deeply about, is actually not “good enough.”

But what we have to remember is that our stories are important too. It’s so easy to look to those already published and successful authors and think, “there is no way I’d ever measure up.” Someone once said, “write like it matters and it will.” And that is all we need to keep in mind. So long as what we’re writing is something that we love and care about, it will translate to an audience. Every single one of us has at least one story to tell. And we shouldn’t let any fears or doubts get in our way. So, if you’re currently grappling with self-doubt, let me be the first to remind you that you’re not alone. And your work is most definitely good enough, which is why you need to keep going.

Keep on writing.

Writing Resources

As writers, we often find ourselves needing a little bit of help to navigate the task that is crafting a story. But sometimes, we don’t always know where to turn when we need a little bit of a creative boost. It is usually in those times of need that we turn to the internet for some inspiration. And below, I have put together a list of my favorite online sources for when I need a little nudge. 

Writing resources:

Fantasy Names Generator

Have you ever found yourself completely stuck as to what name you should give a character, or what to call a new piece of technology in your world? I’ve been there a few times and that is how I discovered Fantasy Names Generator. If you haven’t already discovered this website, then you really need to go check it out. It has literally a category for everything from troll names to steampunk city names to actual human names from the 20th century – chances are this website will inspire you if you’re ever stuck for a name. It’s also got a generator for character descriptions or story prompts so if you’re experiencing writer’s block a browse usually helps to give the creative wheels a turn in the right direction. 

Artbreeder

I love creating visual representations for my characters. There is something about seeing them come to life that makes their story that much more tangible for me. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother’s fine art skills. Instead, my repertoire for “fine art” is limited to questionably symmetrical star doodles and lopsided stick figures. And turning my characters into stick figures isn’t exactly inspiring. Thankfully, that is where Artbreeder comes in. It’s a free website where you can create characters. And it’s so much fun! Another app that I like to use on my phone is Dollify since it gives you more of a cutesy/anime look to your characters. 

Pinterest

Okay, I will admit, this one is pretty obvious. Most of you probably already use Pinterest for creating mood boards. But I thought I’d include it just incase. I cannot state enough how much I love mood boards. And Pinterest is my favorite place to search for and create mood boards. Not only have I found mood boards to be a great way of plotting out scenes or reinvigorating myself with creative energy when I hit a writer’s block, but sharing them with your followers on social media is also a great way to drum up interest in your work. 

Grammarly

Yes, regular spell check on your computer is great. But if you want that little bit extra, Grammarly is excellent. It will catch things that the regular spell check on Microsoft Word might not. And if you are choosing to do some self-editing of your manuscript, I highly recommend getting Grammarly, it’s worth the money.

Facebook Groups

If you’re stuck looking for like-minded people, look no further than Facebook. Especially in today’s current climate with the COVID-19 pandemic it’s not like we can just go out and attend writing workshops and stuff in order to meet fellow writers. So, going online and finding a Facebook group is a great way of still being able to get the benefit of having a writing circle but also remaining socially distant. And even during non-apocalyptic times, online Facebook groups can still be a great way to connect with other writers in your area or from around the world. I am personally a member of several, my two favorite ones being the Fantasy and Scifi Writers and the NaNoWriMo group. The F/SF one is great for obvious reasons, since it’s right within the two genres I tend to write and read the most, the members really understand the struggles of being a F/SF writer. And the NaNoWriMo one is another great resource as there are writers of all genres in that one. And it gets particularly busy around November, so it’s a wonderful support system to have if you ever participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge because it’s literally thousands of other writers going through the exact same struggle as you trying to finish 50k in 30 days. 

What are some of your favorite writing resources? Let me know!

Author Interview with Isabella Cheung

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Isabella Cheung for an interview. She is a featured author in DSP’s Lost Love anthology.

  1. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t think I really considered myself a ‘writer’ until I reached eleventh grade in high school. I’ve been writing for fun ever since I was a child, but I never really thought of it as something I could succeed in until I started doing it more. I was more-so into the fine arts (to specify, drawing) up until that year, when I took a Creative Writing course. Being in that class somewhat introduced me to writing for myself, rather than in a strictly academic fashion.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

My writing/creative process tends to come in little bursts, which makes it difficult to bang out an entire story all in one day. For me, good ideas tend to come late at night (a decent amount past midnight!), so I’m consistently stuck trying to decide whether to get a good night’s sleep or write! (It’s usually the latter).

  1. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I usually don’t come up with a title until I’ve finished writing the story in its entirety, and even then, it can be somewhat difficult for me. I tend to try and pick-out words or phrases that catch my eye throughout the story.

  1. Who is your favorite character?

In the stories that I’ve written, my favorite character would probably be Irina, a fallen angel from my most recent story, An Angel’s Desire. From other series that I’ve read, my all-time favourite character would be Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices.

  1. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

While I haven’t made much progress on it recently, having to balance different workloads, I am in the process of drafting my first novel, which will hopefully be part of a four-book series in the future.

  1. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

Being an English Major, I tend to do a fair bit of academic writing throughout a typical day. I try to fit in at least fifteen minutes of writing in my free-time, whether that be planning for an upcoming project, or even a bit of drafting. Recently, I’ve had a bit of time off, so I have been writing a lot for my current WIP.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t think I could narrow it down to one author in particular, but a few whose works I tend to enjoy are: Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, Sarah J Maas, and Leigh Bardugo. Reading their stories is like stepping into an entirely different world and having the adventure of a lifetime. I think it’s cool to be able to read their books and think about the amount of planning and creativity it takes to invent these mystical worlds, and then apply it to my own writing.

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Funnily enough, when I’m not writing I tend to be ingesting hockey in any sort of way (reading articles, scrolling through game highlights, etc.). I’m a huge fan of my hometown team, the Vancouver Canucks, and find the sport fascinating to watch. Playing it, on the other hand… it’s safe to say that I probably shouldn’t be put in skates too often!

  1. What are you reading now?

One of my friends recently managed to get me started on Sarah J Maas’s Throne Of Glass series, so I’m currently burning my way through those books. I’ve also recently read Stalking Jack the Ripper, by Kerri Maniscalco, and These Violent Delights, by Chloe Gong, both of which are great books for those who are big fans of mystery and historical fiction, like myself.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

I’m currently in the process of setting up a website for myself, but I’m available on Facebook, Instagram, and Linktree.

When You’re Stuck On A Scene

As writers we all experience writer’s block. But nothing is more frustrating than when we are in the middle of an important scene and then, BOOM! The writer’s block strikes. And suddenly we find ourselves gently banging our heads against the desk, wondering when it will back. Getting stuck on a scene is not fun. I’ve come up with a couple ways of breaking through the writer’s block barrier:

Tip 1

Try writing the scene from the perspective of another character. Sometimes getting into the head of another character can give you a fresh perspective on your scene. 

Tip 2

Make a music playlist for the scene. Nothing helps get creativity flowing quite like music. If you use music to set the scene it might help you get through the writer’s block. I usually like to make a writing playlist ahead of time, specifically to try and get ahead of any potential writer’s block.

Tip 3

If you are artfully inclined, try sketching out the scene. Alternatively, if you’re like me and your artistic expression doesn’t range beyond stick figures then you can try making a mood board on Pinterest. Sometimes seeing a visual representation of our scene helps to get the creative juices flowing again. Alternatively, doing something creative can get us back into the writing frame of mind. 

Tip 4

Circle back to it and instead write the next scene. Just because you’re stuck on one scene in particular, that doesn’t mean that you can’t keep moving forward. Plus, this might help to get the flow going again.

Tip 5

Try writing in a different style or POV. 

Tip 6

Write the dialogue only. I really find this one particularly helpful. Sometimes we get stuck on a scene because we’re trying to set the scene with descriptions etc. But if we get the dialogue and character interactions down, we can then circle back and layer on the other elements afterwards.

Tip 7

If all else fails, get up and go for a walk, come back, make a hot cup of something, and then try again. This is my go-to solution when nothing else is working. 

What writer’s block solutions do you like to try when you’re stuck on a scene?