Hello and happy Wednesday!
I’m thrilled to be able to share a guest post with you today, from the sweet and talented writer Kristianne Hassman of Whimsical Wanderings!
Earlier this week, I was blessed to be able to post on her site and talk about the impact of stories on our lives (which you can find here). And now it’s our turn to be blessed by her always inspirational insights!
Well-done characters are essential for a well-done story, and Kristianne has some great wisdom to help us in that process! So without further ado . . .
When you read a story, what draws you in the most? What stirs your emotions? What sticks with you long after you’ve put the book down?
I’ll take a wild guess and say that most of you said characters. For me personally, characters are always what I connect with the most. Not the world, not the theme, but the characters. Why?
Well, it makes sense that they would impact us the most because they’re people, just like us. They have hopes and dreams. They experience loss and pain and disappointment. And they have strengths and weaknesses, just like we all do.
They are the ones that push the story forward. They drive the theme home. And they are the ones that make us feel the emotional heart of the story. They are the heart of the story.
Obviously, then, characters are crucial to a story. They are the ones that often make or break a story. So how do we create characters that readers can connect with? Characters that leave them hungry for more?
It’s a difficult task, creating soul-deep characters. But it’s not impossible. With the right tools and understanding, you can create powerful characters. Today I’d like to give you five simple tips I’ve gleaned over the years on creating characters that will tug on your readers’ heartstrings.
1. Powerful characters experience some kind of loss or disappointment.
We can all sympathize with a character who has lost something precious, whether that’s a loved one, a home, a dream, even an identity. Loss is the universal experience of humankind. All of us, at some point in our lives, have experienced some kind of loss to varying degrees. We know what it feels like to move away, to give up a dream, maybe even to lose a family member.
Whether big or small, make sure to include some kind of loss in your character’s life. But make sure it’s meaningful to them. Make sure it hits them in a deep, vulnerable place, even if it’s simply losing a pet. Go a step further and tie your character’s loss to his sense of identity. That will involve your reader emotionally and draw them further into the story.
2. Powerful characters are sympathetic.
In other words, they should have a redeeming quality to them. Give us a character who doesn’t give in to his loss and pain, but is determined to fight and not give up. This is the kind of character readers can root for. And it’s the kind that will keep them turning pages.
Make sure your character has some sort of strength, whether it’s kindness, patience, generosity, or humility. Your reader must have some way to relate to your character. That’s one of the most important rules of storytelling. That’s why you never see a story from the villain’s point of view. Most of us just can’t relate to an all-consuming desire to harm or kill others without any remorse.
Make sure your character’s strength shines through, ideally in the opening scene. Even if it’s only a few times, make sure we see those good moments where the character’s generosity or concern for others is clearly evident, even if they have glaring faults as well.
3. Powerful characters have some kind of fatal flaw.
No one likes a perfect character. You know, those Elsie Dinsmore characters who are always kind, always patient, and always seem to do the right thing no matter what?
Yeah, that just isn’t realistic. We’re all fallen, weak human beings. Make sure your character is no exception. But make sure his flaw is big enough to impact the story and the theme.
For example, if your theme is that pride is destructive, give your character a major pride flaw that contributes to the obstacles he faces. By having his wrong choices and actions lead to the problems he faces, you will communicate your theme in a much stronger way, as your character must learn to overcome his flaw in order to reach his goal.
4. Powerful characters actively push the story forward.
What’s more frustrating than a perfect character? A passive character. So don’t make that mistake! Your character needs to have a definitive goal that he is taking active steps toward.
For example, if your character is trying to protect his family from the villain, don’t just have him wait around until the villain shows up (unless he’s planning an ambush). Have him actively seek out the villain. Yes, this might lead to more disasters for your character, but that’s a good thing! Not only does an active character make your story more exciting and engaging, but it also provides higher stakes and tension.
5. Powerful characters make rational, appropriate choices.
While your character should be making active choices throughout the story, don’t fall into the trap of having them make choices that only exist to get them to where you need them to be. This will only frustrate your readers.
Your character’s choices need to make sense. They need to fit within their personality and desires and goals. Don’t have him detour off the path in the opposite direction just because he needs to face a monster there. Give him a deeper reason to make that choice, one that’s related to his goals and desires. Or, if you just can’t make your plot point fit with your character, change it so that it’s more relevant to your character.
Whatever you do, don’t force your character to make a decision out of character. That might require a little more work and creativity, but it’s worth it in the end.
If you include all these major elements, you’ll have the makings of a powerful character, and ultimately, a great story. Readers are drawn to characters who have experienced loss, are flawed but sympathetic, and who actively push the story forward by making rational choices.
Creating solid characters is hard. It won’t come easily for you right away. In fact, it will likely be a life-time pursuit. But if you continue to practice diving deep into your characters’ desires, fears, and goals, you will get better at creating soul-deep characters that impact your readers, inspire them to greater heights, and might even change their lives for good.
So go out there and create powerful characters the world will remember!
Kristianne Hassman is a missionary kid who has called Africa her home for most of her eighteen years. She currently lives in the beautiful country of South Africa. As a writer, she seeks to use her words to encourage other young writers and third-culture kids that they are not alone in their struggles.
Besides writing, she enjoys reading voraciously, playing piano and violin, and helping with her family’s ministry. You can connect with her at her blog WhimsicalWanderings or on Instagram @kristiannejoywrites.
Thank you so much for sharing such helpful information, Kristianne! Characters have always been my favorite parts of stories, too, and these tips are spot on for helping create truly memorable and moving ones.
Did you find any of these tips especially helpful? Are any of them easier or harder for you to implement? We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on creating soul-deep characters, so feel free to comment below and share your experiences!