If you want to create bestselling fiction, you need to pay attention to creating characters readers love — or at least like.
Firstly, a word about words.
Fiction isn’t words, it’s feelings
New authors can focus too much on “writing”; on the words. Please be aware that you won’t get beyond this stage in your first few years as an author. Words are your tools. It’s natural to be totally focused on them. However, try to take it to heart that your words don’t matter. What matters, is your effect on readers.
That effect doesn’t come from words unless those words have heart. To make readers feel, you need to feel.
Your skill as an author grows, until you move beyond words, to feelings. Of course the words still matter. 🙂 They matter very much. But as you grow as an author, you’ll know that without heart, you have nothing to share.
I’m sure that the above comment is about as clear as the proverbial mud, if you’re a new author. Just remember — HEART. Feel your characters. Care about them, and the situations they’re in.
Make your characters likable
Your readers MUST like your main character. If they don’t, they’ll never get beyond the ebook sample. They certainly won’t buy your novel, or short story.
In Creating Characters In Fiction: No One’s Perfect, we said:
“Beware of making your characters too perfect however. Perfection isn’t for human beings.”
Authors know that they need to create likable characters, so they make their main characters perfect. The female lead is a heart surgeon. She’s a widow, with four children she’s raising alone. She buys only organic produce, cooks healthy meals, and campaigns to save the planet…
The male lead character is a self-made billionaire who looks like a male model, is a race car driver, climbs mountains, and is always seen with a gorgeous woman on his arm.
These characters are perfect. They’re also completely unreal, and boring. They’re unlikable.
How to create likable characters: make readers care
Liking a character starts when readers care about a character. So how do you make readers care?
Give your main character an obstacle, and a goal. Then make him or her fight for that goal, against big odds.
Let’s say that as above, your female lead character is a surgeon, in a male-dominated field. She sees a superior make an error. The patient dies. Your lead wants to change two protocols, so that the error can’t happen again. Yet everyone refuses to admit that the head surgeon made an error.
Your lead fights for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She’s out-spoken. She has children who are raised by a nanny, and she feels guilty about that. She also feels guilty that she couldn’t make her marriage work.
In short: to create a likable character, create a flawed character, who’s fighting against the odds for an important goal.
Think about the people you like. All they perfect? Of course not. Yet, they’re caring, compassionate, smart… they fight for what they believe in, and help the people they can help.
Plot is character: likable characters ACT
What’s more important? Characters, or plot? You can’t disentangle them, because plot is characters acting — and failing.
No one likes to fail. However your characters will fail, and after they fail, they’ll persist. They’ll keep pursuing their goals.
We often discuss scenes. Do yourself a favor, and think in scenes.
In Writing Fiction In Scenes: The Big Secret, we said:
The most important scenes in fiction are your “big” scenes. In a romance, they’re the scenes in which the main characters become romantically involved. In a mystery, they’re the scenes in which you artfully drop clues to either guide, or mislead, your readers.
We’ve also said that:
A scene is a unit of ACTION. Make something HAPPEN — something important, which changes things for your main character.
Focus on scenes and action
Take a look at the fiction you’re working on. What happens in each scene? Do your characters fight for what they want in each scene?
If you’ve written some scenes in which nothing much happens, you’ve lost your readers. Make things happen — make your characters take action. Let them fail.
If your main characters have goals, with big obstacles to blocking them from achieving those goals, and yet act, you’ve created likable characters. Keep them moving. Force them to act, and keep acting. With any luck at all, you’ll create characters readers love — and you’ll write bestselling fiction.
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.More info →
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