Writing a Book? Know Your Characters

Updated: Apr 12, 2018

As a fiction writer, do you really know your characters? Do you know their likes and dislikes? Do they have mood swings? Do they like sports, or know how to cook? Are they kind, considerate, selfish, self-conceited? What do you know about your characters?

Yep, these may seem silly questions to ask, since we all know characters in fiction novels are exactly what they are – mere characters in fiction novels. So since they're fictional, is there a need for anything more? Readers already know they're not real.

Yes, indeed there's a need to do more than just label them as characters. The key component of any fiction work is the characters. The plot alone doesn't make good fiction what it is; it's the characters that give it depth -- their personalities, the actions they take, the decisions they make, that's what makes good [literary] fiction. It's about the readers finding that point of connection between themselves and the character, seeing themselves in these fictional emblems, perhaps drawing strength from them, or learning a lesson from consequences of wrong actions taken.

What's her point, you ask?

My point is, if you want to write good fiction (especially if leaning towards literary fiction), you have to know who your characters are so you can better represent them when weaving the plot of your story. When a twist occurs in the plot, what would character A, the protagonist think to do, being the 'so-and-so’ kind of person that he is? Having gone through a déjà vu experience as the one that's about to happen in a particular plot, how would Character B react? How would he face his demons? These are examples of situations to have in mind when developing your character. Your characters, especially the protagonist/antagonist, are not simply cartoon characters or foils that can get away with anything; they have to be as real as can be. They have to feel real emotions, real inner turmoil, real pain, real laughter, real joy.

How do you achieve this?

Well, one way to get your character connection going and flowing, is to give each of them traits that you want to enhance, traits that are so ordinary and real, but extra-ordinary at the end of the day. Write a list of your main character’s likes, dislikes, passion, needs, temperament, and so on. Is he conceited, or is he humble? Does she find it hard to trust? Why? What ticks him off, and what makes him happy? How will they develop as the plot thickens? Will they get better, or worse? Will they appear stronger, or more defeated, at the end? Make up as much character traits as you want for your characters, and know them like you would get to know a close friend, or even a sibling. Get to know your characters; get to be your characters. Establish a bond with them, so that when you begin writing your work, you can easily tell what twist or turn to take that would make or break them, develop or bring them down, and your words will flow easily to merge your characters, your plot, settings, and all implemented elements together to bring forth an outstanding literary piece of work.

There's no better feeling for the reader than being able to establish a kinship with the characters. When authors succeed in accomplishing this feeling for the reader, it means they've mastered their characters like the back of their hands!

Know your characters, and know them well.


As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are. --- Quentin Tarantino

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