Creating Characters that Matter: What Makes a Good Character?

Creating characters that matter: what makes a good character?

This is somewhat a difficult question to ask ourselves as authors, because we create the people in our stories, so we love them all, like children or paintings we’ve made. There are no bad story people as far as the author is concerned. But creating characters that matter and placing them on the page for a reader is the most important thing we do.

Stories are about characters. They are the vehicle that people identify with and want to spend time with. So what makes a good one and how can we know we are hitting our mark?

Three ways to know when you have created a good character:

    1. When the paper person (aka character) is one who has real problems that cannot be fixed with a simple conversation with the antagonist, and worse yet, the antagonist is the one with all the aces in their hand. If you make the situation seem real and unsolveable for our hapless hero, readers turn pages.

    2. When the character has a serious connection to the problem. I think this is what I like the most about A Game of Thrones series. The characters all face insurmountable odds of differing types, but they are all their OWN problems, not the overall story situation at hand, not just the war and who will win what battle, but the situations each character faces with life on his own terms. And Martin keeps us guessing as to if they will survive them. When our characters face life issues that have no easy way out, it makes a good read.

    3. When the reader can turn pages and see the character going from being whipped at every turn to being the victor in the end, it is a satisfying read and everyone will be talking about the great encounter they had with that character. I guess the word conflict is about to pop out of my mouth. Conflict and lots of it will make a character change and grow through the pages of your book and that is the thing that makes us care. If your character is the same at the end of the book as he was at the beginning, then what was the reason for his enduring such trials in the first place?

I could give you a number of examples about books who do this really well in just about every genre. You should be reading widely to see for yourself though. If you want to know more about what I have been reading and what I am learning about characters, check out my reading page here: http://wp.me/P3VxaG-cI

About master

Kim Smith is the author of Disk of Death, The Dread Room, Love Inn, and An Unexpected Performance.

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