It’s always a pleasure to hear enthusiastic readers, especially writing coaches, share some of their favorite ideas for pumping up the drama and excitement of a story. Today, I’ve been reviewing some notes I took at a workshop with two skilled writer-coaches from a local university. They offered some great advice for crafting memorable characters that readers care about. Here are some tips you might find helpful in your own work:
Give your character a moral backbone: Characters are the driving force in a story. While physical descriptions are important and revealing, it’s characters’ moral makeup — their inner lives — that attract readers to them. This deeper dimension of your characters is revealed through the decisions and choices they make and the actions they take in high-pressure situations.
Give your character a driving desire: A character has to want something in a story — burning, unsatisfied desires provide forward motion and the incentive to overcome tough obstacles. This yearning can be concrete — to get rich or break free from a stifling marriage or like Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye, it can be abstract: the desire to find a place to belong.
Give your character contrasting traits: Readers want characters to be complex. Characters with a mix of qualities that spark both inner turmoil and external conflict are more interesting and dynamic. Fearful and impetuous; super smart and socially inept; bombastic and insecure — character traits like these rub up against each other and create friction. Good characters have inner conflicts and lots of things going on outside as well.
Give your character a flaw, a secret, or a fantasy — or all three: In Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the main character teaches troubled kids by day and cruises bars by night. Flaws, secrets, and fantasies make characters human and appealing. They help readers relate to them emotionally and root for them to make it in spire of their frailties.
All this gives me a lot to think about as I’m writing my YA novel — how about you?
although I was aware of most of these, I will admit, seeing this post is making me rethink some things about the characters in my current work. The protagonist could use perhaps a secret to be revealed later on. He does have a flaw, several actually, and his potential love interest has a huge secret which is to be one of the bombshells of the story. Thank you so much for posting this! This is making me want to add a bit more depth to my main characters as well as add a little more to the supporting ones.
Thanks so much for your note — I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Love the idea of dropping a bombshell in your story — sounds like you have lots going on. Hope you’ll keep checking in — I have another post on interviewing characters coming up soon.
Write on! Karin