Legit Author Bullsh*t Step Two
Make your characters seem like real people.
You’ve heard it before.
“Your characters need to be relatable.”
What does this mean? Basically, it means the reader needs to identify on some level with your characters. This doesn’t mean they need to be the same ethnicity, age, or economic status. Ideally, your readers should be a diverse group, and it would be impossible to speak to each on such a specific level. What you’re looking for is a way to connect on a broader scale - as human beings.
But I write *insert genre featuring non-humans here*. My characters aren’t human.
No problem. Let them have their green skin, three eyeballs and wings. But also give them a penchant for caramel corn. Or crippling self-doubt. Have them wax poetic about that one time in band camp.
Characters need flaws. No one is an expert fighter, runway model with perfect morals, charismatic persona and not one thing to complain about all rolled into one wealthy, admired-by-all package. Everyone has something that holds them back, keeps them just out of reach of perfection. Show their struggles, their self-doubt, the bumps and pitfalls along their journey to world-saving badassery.
Readers need to feel like this could be them. They need something to admire. No one admires the guy who gets everything handed to them and never has to work for anything. They admire the scrappy little guy who persevered, never gave up, kept on fighting despite all odds. They want to be the average, not so awesome office jockey metamorphosed into the witty, strong-willed superhero taking names and kissing dames. They want to journey with that person and watch how their life changes. That’s why celebrity autobiographies sell so well - they give hope that someday, just maybe, the stars will align for them, too.
My favorite character in my world is Max Egan. He’s a High Fae, an Aos Si, a powerful fighter and magic-user trapped in modern US and working as a monster hunter. His skill is well beyond anything someone like I could ever hope to attain, but he’s not perfect. He whines, is easily annoyed, and makes a lot of mistakes. He doesn’t let that stop him, though. Each time he falls, or gets clocked by a towering Ogre, he gets back up and journeys on.
It’s not all about the flaws. There are two coins to every side. It could be two sides to every coin, but this makes things more interesting, yes?
Your character’s awesome powers are hampered by personality defects. Great, but that doesn’t quite make them likable. Now you need redeeming character traits. A soft spot for the helpless, a devotion to family, fierce loyalty to friends. You have to give a reason to like your MC besides just savage sword skills.
Max doesn’t like to kill and he can’t say no to rescuing someone from a dangerous situation. Sure, if a Gryphon has flown off with little Timmy as an afternoon snack, he’ll come back with an awesome pelt to hang on the wall. But he leaves the deathstroke as a last option. He’d rather send the monsters back where they came from than six feet under. He has feelings.
Your character should have feelings, too. Jealousy, rage, fear, happiness, excitement. Your character should feel it all, and react to it in their own unique way. We’ve all felt these emotions. Your character’s emotions will resonate with your reader. Make the reader feel what your character feels, care when your character is upset, scared, or just plain tired. If you can do that, you’ve got them hooked.
Here are some tips on believable characters: