About Writing on Wednesdays: What Kind Of Character Do You Have?

Faith Hunter, Ed Schubert and Larry Correa discussed their thoughts about character development in this panel at Stellarcon.

The focus was on the protagonist and how to create him or her with the something extra that makes a reader’s eyes pop out. Something more than eye color, hair color, weight or height. The something that makes them keep reading and want more.

You love your character. S/he is the best thing since sliced bread. Naaaannnh! This is a huge red flag that your character is bor-ing. Part of the story is the flawed character that needs improvement. To keep the reader interested your character must grow and change through the end of the book.

However, your character can’t just change without warning. Something has to make the character see him/herself clearly. This is the point where the character transitions from good to bad or vice versa. The character must make a choice that determines his or her path for the rest of the book. A choice that helps decide how your book ends.

Readers must be able to relate to your characters. Some ways to humanize characters: have them fall short of a goal; have low self-esteem; break a code of honor; unable to complete a task; make them clumsy; have bad luck; have ill-health; have a phobia; not the sharpest marble; be shy or walk away from something because it’s too hard.

Flaws to give your character: they’re judgemental; they have a temper; they’re impatient; they’re arrogant; they’re introverted; they’re a loner; they’re overconfident; they’re weak; they’re ignorant; too rigid and won’t change easily; prejudiced against race, religion, etc.; they’re amoral or too promiscuous.

A deeply flawed character discussed was Dexter from Showtime. A TV show based on a series of books. He is an example of a bad character who is fun to write. If you are not familiar with the show or books he is a serial killer.

I saw the first two seasons of Dexter before I cut Showtime loose. The premise was his stepfather saw the trait in him and directed his energies to killing other serial killers. The twist is he works for the police. I liked the show and now I’m thinking I should check out the books although I’m sure they’re nothing like the TV show.

Characters who walk a very narrow line between good and bad are Anne Stuart’s stock in trade.  In general her male protagonists are amoral but somehow she always manages to make them likeable if a little scary. True love puts them on the right path. Of course it’s a wide path.

 If you’re interested in these type books try Anne’s books from the Ice series or Ritual Sins. In case you don’t know and you’re interested, Jeff Lindsay writes the Dexter books.

Be careful when writing a character like Dexter or Bastian from Black Ice. It would be all too easy to antagonize your readers instead of enticing them to read more.

Dumb characters can also be fun but again there has to be some restraint in writing them. For instance dumb characters should not be outright stupid nor should cruelty be involved. They are useful for creating humorous situations or showcasing another character’s patience, love or even lack of humor. For more read this post from While We’re Paused.

You know I don’t know of too many dumb protagonists but if you’re into romance I have two books I can recommend to you from Jill Barnett**. Just A Kiss Away and Bewitching have two female protagonists who are little dim but make up for it by being sweet and loveable. I recommend the books highly because they’re also funny without being cruel.

While We’re Paused also had a great post about characters written in the first person. There are a lot of authors who write in the first person these days. Quite a few of them have the same voice even though it is supposed to be a different character in a different story. They have huge followings.

The reason for their popularity is because the authors have found a voice and a character prototype they and their readers love. There may be no real change in voice from book to book but it doesn’t matter because their readers expect this.

To change would cause more harm than good to these authors because it could lose them some followers. On the other hand it could be argued they may gain a few followers if they change-up a few things. 

There are probably very good reasons why this happens to writers. It could be there is no change in first person voice because it’s done on purpose, may be because they’re in a rut, could be they’re just lazy or there could be who know what other reason. 

For the most part it isn’t an issue to many readers as long as the characters and the story they’re featured in are compelling to them. If you think about it, it’s no different from watching your favorite movie over and over.

Regardless of point of view when you find a winning character prototype that you want to continue using there will be readers who either don’t care or like it. If you want to create different characters for each book then there will be readers who want that because they will know change is constant with you.

You’re not going to please everyone so please yourself. Above all create the imperfect character that makes you itch to improve him or her. When the rest of us reads your story then we’ll be compelled to read it to the end to see how it all turns out.

Who is your favorite character and why? Do you like funny characters, serious ones or scary ones? Should there be real differences in voice when changing characters and stories or does it matter? What is your favorite character flaws? What makes a character more human to you?


**To be honest I love everything Jill Barnett writes and those two books are favorites. I about fell over when I looked them up on Amazon. Good gracious! Over $70 for Just A Kiss Away! I have got to get out to my shed and check my copy. The good news is they are out on Kindle so everyone can enjoy these classic romances.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tiffany A White
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 18:39:45

    I like characters who are strong and smart, but have an anamoly. I”m sure you won’t be surprised here, but I’ll talk about some of my favorite television characters. One example is Adrian Monk – an absolutely brilliant detective but has an extreme case of OCD that hinders him every day. Another, Brenda Lee Johnson from The Closer. Again, a brilliant detective but she lacks somewhat of a personal side; and when pushed, she needs chocolate. What woman doesn’t need chocolate?

    My WIP’s character is discovering that she has a tiny case of OCD when she’s trying to manage the death of her best friend. Every character needs internal and external conflict….


  2. Shellie Sakai
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 09:21:14

    I agree. Every character needs flaws, its makes them more real. I like how you summed this up, it puts into perspective just what I needed to hear. My character is a loner who hates liars. He gets lied to in a big way, it totally flips him into the deep end of the pool. Betrayed, and disgusted he has to overcome these emotions to see…..something. I can’t give the whole plot away now can I? LOL!

    Great post. Thank you.


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