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Hi there! I hope you’re safe & well. The fall ick has been going around lately. Hopefully you’ve been taking care of yourself and staying healthy so you can enjoy this season!
I have had one common piece of feedback on my writing: readers have trouble connecting with my characters.
This is something I’ve been working to improve because, as we all know, the characters can make or break a story!
Would you rather read a good story with a bad MC, or a not-so-good story with a great MC?
For me, it’s all about the character.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an exciting plot. But if I can’t get into the character’s head from the start, I’m bored for the rest of the book.
The problem with this is that there’s often a small window of time where if I don’t connect with the character, I never will. I have to be drawn in within the first few chapters, otherwise the character is lost on me.
So today I thought I’d share some tricks I’ve learned about creating more relatable characters.
1: Give the character something to care about-QUICKLY!
Giving your character something to love is such an important part of adding depth to a character.
This doesn’t always have to be a love interest!
In fact, I recommend you give them something to care about that is totally platonic, or even something private they don’t share with many people.
This can be a pet, a sweater their grandma knit them, a necklace from their dad, a rock they found as a child, anything!
Make it personal, give it a story!
This is part of developing your character’s backstory-creating little scenes from their past that you can incorporate into the story in one way or another.
This adds depth to your character and a level of relatability for your reader!
They can have moments like “Oh, my grandma knit me a scarf I still have!” or “I have a dried flower from that nature walk I took with my dad, I get why she kept that rock!”
It’s the little things that make a big impact on a reader.
Everyone has things they love. That’s just human nature.
Giving your character something to love makes them more believable, and if your reader can relate to it with a similar scenario, all the better!
If you can’t think of anything for your character, think of things you care about, or things people you know care about.
Sometimes taking some inspiration from real life can be even better than making it up, because it’s real.
It’s so much more believable because you believe it.
If you write with complete understanding about a topic, even if you don’t mention every single fact, that knowledge will shine through and give your reader a sense of surety.
2: Give the character unique traits.
Every single person has their own set of unique traits and quirks-so it stands to reason that your characters will too!
More than believability, adding a quirk will give your reader a peek into your character’s inner world.
They will gain an understanding of what makes them tick, how they behave, why they are the way they are.
More than that, it will make your character stand out amongst their peers.
If you think about your friends or family, who stands out to you the most? What makes them unique? What’s your favorite thing about them?
Often it’s people’s quirks that make us love them the most.
I have this cousin. I know I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but he is definitely my favorite! He is covered in piercings and tattoos and is in a heavy metal band. But he’s also the kindest, gentlest soul I think I’ve ever met.
I love his unique qualities, they serve to make him stand out to me.
Give your character some quirks.
Make them scared of butterflies.
Make them love cinammon rolls so much they shed tears every single time.
Make them have a weird laugh.
Make them only wear purple.
Just make them unique!
Give them (believable) traits that make your reader say, “Oh this person’s interesting. Now I want to know more.”
3: Make their best trait be their biggest downfall.
Sometimes our biggest and best qualities can also be out greatest weaknesses.
Bravery is great, especially in a butt-kicking MC… but what happens when their bravery becomes reckless self-sacrifice?
Pride can be a good thing, but what happens when it gives your character a big head?
Being a sweet cinnamon roll can be a lovely quality, but what does it feel like to be the person who never says no, who always has to be nice?
There are so many weaknesses you can give your character, but make sure they fit the personality!
Think about someone in your life. What is their best trait? Their worst?
Can you see how these two things relate to each other?
Don’t be afraid to look into some behavior psychology.
People are fascinating. Life experience, family of origin, and present circumstances can all influence personality.
Make sure that your character makes sense, but then dive deeper into why they are the way they are and how you can make them more interesting.
4: Give your character goals.
Everyone has a goal.
Most people have several!
Someone might have life goals, but also little goals every year, month, or even day.
Make your character want something. Make them desperate for it.
Wanting something is so relatable for your readers. So if you give your character a goal, your reader will connect with that.
Giving your character smaller goals will also be relatable for your readers.
Even if their goal is just to find something to eat.
Who hasn’t been hungry before? Everyone can relate to that!
Another thing to keep in mind here is that every character should have goals, not just your MC.
Your MC’s Big Goal will often line up with the plot, but you have to keep in mind that not all supporting characters will have that same goal.
Maybe your MC wants to save the world, but one of your supporting characters is just in it for the recognition.
Maybe your MC wants to slay the dragon, but your love interest just wants to win the MC’s heart.
Take a good look at each character’s personality and ask yourself why they are on this path.
Your supporting character is the MC of their own story, so what is that story?
5: Give your character redeeming qualities.
Redeeming qualities are vital to creating a relatable character.
Part of relatability is likeability. No, not every person on the planet is likeable, but you will have a tough time selling a book if all your characters chafe against the reader.
Your reader needs to be able to like your MC.
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “But MK, I’m writing a different story. I don’t want my MC to be nice.”
Did I say nice? Nope!
The reader just has to be capable of liking them.
Not every person on the planet is kind, not even all the people you care about in your life. But I guarantee you that if you care about them, they have some redeeming qualities.
Maybe they’re tough but they love hard.
Maybe they have explosive anger, but are also fiercely protective of their loved ones.
Whatever you pick, make sure there is something about your characters that your readers can actually like.
Unless, of course, you enjoy low book sales and being ripped to shreds on Goodreads.
6: Put relatable obstacles in their path
If you’re plotting correctly, there will be several obstacles in your MC’s path.
But part of making them relatable is showing “relatable reactions” to unrelatable situations… and giving your character some normal obstacles!
Put yourself in your character’s shoes: how would you react if you were them?
Make sure that whatever reaction they are having, it lines up with their personality and is believable for your reader.
But more than that, give your characters some NORMAL obstacles!
Does your MC need to save the world, but all the odds are stacked against them? That’s not super relatable for your reader…
So maybe also add that they get nervous in crowds or they’re afraid of spiders. Something totally normal so your reader understands it.
Maybe your character wants to ask someone out, but they’re scared.
Maybe your character is fighting with their sibling.
Maybe your character just lost a family member.
Take something away. Give them a fear. Put something totally mundane in their way that still ends up being a pain in the butt.
All these obstacles are relatable to your real-world readers and can add a sense of depth and believability to your character and your story.
7: Show growth
Growth is vital to your story.
Characters need to show internal struggle just as much as external.
If you’re looking for some examples to take note of, YA does this so well!
You always start out with a character who changes dramatically over the course of the story.
This should happen over time, in believable increments.
Growth takes time in the real world, it should take time in your story too!
Your character should struggle against it at first. Nobody likes change. But after some growing pains, they should be better for it.
It should happen over the course of the book, with greater growth over the course of a series if that’s where your story is headed.
Maybe you’re asking, “But what if my MC ends up worse off than they started?”
Yes… there are exceptions. Something to remember about writing rules is that they’re really more like guidelines.
If you are following a different story structure and you want to show some kind of regression, go for it! It’s your story.
Will you get sales? I don’t know… Ask me in 10 years. Or just do it and find out!
I hope this guide was helpful for my fellow writers out there!
As always, feel free to leave comments below if you think of anything that might make characters more relatable.