The Down-Low On Interesting Characters

Most of the time, writers don’t know how to go about making the fan-favorite character(s) readers remember for years. Don’t you worry because I’m here telling you today how to achieve just that by fixing one of the most obvious mistakes. Write active characters.

Here’s what you’ll want to do to make your character more involved with the plot. For starters, give your character(s) reason behind their actions. And a good reason. You can make a list of reasons and pull one from the hat, but the best reason, for your book will be the one that can impact the most readers, justify the action with great understanding, and portray a human’s impulsiveness (and if not human, a less human-y reason).

Also, ask yourself the question: is my character(s) acting or reacting? When your antagonist is more interesting to read about than your protagonist, you know there is something wrong. If you look very closely, you’ll notice that the bad guy is acting, doing evil because that’s the person they are, and moving about the story, while your good guy is just reacting, going after them, the defensive, protecting from what came and will go. This idea is more for middle school and elementary school grade readers.

Superman is not the hero he is today because he’s a man who wakes up and fights crime. He is the alien man who came from a faraway land, saddened by his grief, deserted on a planet which he has grown to love with people he’s grown to care about and he must save his new home from the terrible beings that have realistic motives to destroy the world. He looks for evil, using his news career (active), but most of the time he just stumbles across it (not active, and kind of cartoony-middle schoolish). Truthfully, if Superman didn’t have his bad guys, he’d be watching TV in his apartment.

Build the character. Use his actions at the beginning to demonstrate his strength, his weaknesses, and use them to foreshadow what he will be able to do and cannot do. Don’t tell but show us what he’s fond of and what he holds dear and what he has lost. It’s impressive to see the more creative parts of actions that tell a past. Try to expose what has happened using present actions.

Have more people reacting to them versus them reacting to others. Give them an audience and show how others treat them. If they are a normal run-of-the-mill person, describe the audience as people not looking at him, holding the door open for him out of courtesy, etc – after he walks up to the door and smiles at them. If he is a freak, the more instances where a person shuns him, flinching, calling him names, etc., will broaden the reaction to him acting weird. Do these reactions directly after his actions for the best effect. If he is just walking and people are “reacting to him” without visual reason, they are the one’s acting.

Make internal struggles strong. Discuss what’s going on inside in depth. Make sure the reader sees the pain this person is going through and their actions reflect their feelings. If they make a mistake because they over-thought something, or they didn’t think enough about and acted out of impulse, this is good. This shows the reader human-like flaws that they can relate to and feel bad for or excited for and etc. Mistakes are fine, but unexplainable, unreasoned actions are not.

Finally, this is a subliminal trick that will make your characters strong. Somewhere else in the book, have a polar opposite for each character so that the reader can subconsciously see the contrast that’s there. Even if they never meet, it still deepens the characters’ traits, and when they do meet, this opens many opportunities for actions and reactions between the two. That’s always an interesting thing to see.

I really enjoyed this one lecture from Brandon Sanderson’s vlog, hoping you all go check him out after this. He’s a college professor who films his class on a daily basis, so if you’re ever looking for more advice, there’s a bulk of it sitting around on his channel.


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