3 Tips to Writing Successful Characters


Characters are the conduit through which your readers encounter, interact with, and explore your written world.

It is therefore crucial that they possess certain engaging qualities. Imagine following Bella Swan through Middle Earth. It just would not have been the same.

While there are plenty of useful qualities to instill in your characters, I have discovered (through reading and writing and publishing) that three resound especially well. They are:

  1. Characters who possess a unique trait, peccadillo, or habit that sets them apart from everyone else, making them instantly memorable.
  2. Characters with more than an ‘arc.’ They need a flood, something they will fight tooth and nail to survive and overcome
  3. Characters must have a great passion for something. This passion will flavor their every decision, dialogue, and act as they move through your created world. This passion gives them a zest for life that should leap off the pages and make readers fall in love with them

Writing Successful Characters

Unique traits make your characters distinct from each other and from other literary persons; they also lend credibility. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, his MC Roland Deschain has a habit of rolling his finger around in an impatient manner whenever someone is taking too long getting to the point. Despite his almost mythical nature, this peccadillo brings him down to earth and humanizes a hero.

For a character to learn something (as all MC’s must do), you need to create a wall, nearly insurmountable, for them to encounter and decide to climb. This not only creates intrigue, it also pushes your character to the breaking point, forcing her to perform drastic actions she never would have considered before.

Also, readers love characters brimming with life, people who display zest enough to infuse each page with enthusiasm and meaning—same as with real life.

At the risk of alienating Twi-hards, I would once again point to Bella Swan. When she circles the drain of depression and becomes a zombie for several months in New Moon . . . well, that was dull. She had no passion. The book didnt become interesting until she decided to go and save her precious vamp boyfriend.

In contrast, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings were engaging and likeable for their simple love of life. They have no real depth, but that doesn’t matter. They enjoy living, they enjoy loving things (eating, mostly), and they are adventurous. Even though they long for home, they don’t whine about it; they relish certain moments during their journey.

Write What You Love

Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the troublesome hobbits.

Enjoy the moment. Wherever you are in your life, embrace life. Whoever surrounds you, embrace them! We may miss the old days, but in the future we may look back on today with fondness, wishing we could go back and ‘do it all over again’ but enjoy it and be grateful this time around.

Forgive my tangent. I wax nostalgic this time of year.

Perhaps the point is that we should find a way (if we haven’t already) to develop a zest for life, a passion to go with our peccadilloes which, when combined, might just help us overcome the roadblocks in our own lives. And, armed with this knowledge and experience, we will then be able to expertly and successfully write such life and experience into our characters.

They say ‘write what you love’ and ‘write what you know.’ Good advice—especially when you love life and know how to write it.

For more on this subject, this love letter to yourelf and to your readers, you might check out this slick post.