Jan 02 2012

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

Here are some possibilities for making boring characters interesting–feel free to mix and match.


Problem 1: The character doesn’t have a distinct personality.


A) Make sure the character has distinct traits.  Can you name 3-4 adjectives that fit your character really well but not most other protagonists in your genre?  If not, please see this list of character traits for some possibilities and this article about how to use traits to develop characters.


B) Give him at least one flaw, a trait that makes it harder for him to achieve his goals and preferably leads to some conflict with sympathetic characters.   Some authors back into rarely-interesting “flaws” like being overly modest or “caring too much.”  If you can use those flaw(s) to create conflict or obstacles, that’s fine.  For example, maybe he wants to succeed in a job where modesty is an obstacle (e.g. marketing, sales or politics).  If you can’t use the flaw to create conflict, I’d recommend trying a different flaw instead or possibly rewriting the plot to accommodate the character.  For example, if you were really dead-set on a character whose signature flaw was his total inability to play the didgeridoo, maybe he’s growing up in a culture where mastering the didgeridoo is a critical rite of passage and/or the main way to pick up ladies.  For more on flaws and challenging characters, please see this article.


C) If all else fails, play up traits to the extreme.  Anything is better than having your character do and say “whatever the author feels like today,” and unfortunately I see many WTAFLT characters.  It’s generally easier to rewrite a character whose traits are too strong than one whose traits are too bland/unclear.


D) Make sure your plot gives your protagonists chances to make unusual choices. If 99% of protagonists from your genre would act the same way if they were in your plot, you’re not giving your protagonist a chance to distinguish himself.  If there’s a goal, a principle or a possession your character values much more than most other protagonists would, your character might make an unusual decision to protect/advance it.  For example, the fugitive protagonist of Point of Impact breaks into an FBI-guarded morgue to reclaim and properly bury his dead dog. It’s a memorable scene because the character is putting himself on the line for a goal that wouldn’t matter to most action protagonists–almost every protagonist would just skip to getting revenge or clearing his name.


E) Flesh out his perspective–what are some things he would notice or comment on that most other people wouldn’t?  What are some things he would draw connections between that most people wouldn’t?  For example, in a superhero-style world where people like Lois Lane or Mary Jane get kidnapped repeatedly, a veteran superhero (or investigator) might guess that anyone that’s been kidnapped by a supervillain for no readily obvious reason is probably very close to a superhero.


F) Force your main character to do or say at least one thing per page that he would do but you wouldn’t.  Don’t let your character get hemmed in by what you would do–most authors aren’t interesting or honest/circumspect enough to make an autobiography work.  Also, if at all possible, please force your main character(s) to do/say at least one thing per page that your other characters wouldn’t.  That will really help the main character feel distinct.  If that’s not possible, I would recommend reevaluating whether the character has distinct traits and whether the plot is giving him opportunities to show those traits.


Problem 2: The character doesn’t have a pressing goal. 


A. If the character doesn’t already have a pressing goal, give him one.  If the character did have a goal but it petered out or he accomplished it too quickly, either create a new obstacle that endangers his accomplishment or transition into a new goal.


B. The goal doesn’t need to be life or death, but the character needs to feel the stakes are high.  If the character can just walk away, the plot is liable to fall apart.  Here are some tips on ways to motivate a character.


C. If you’re near the start of the book and aren’t willing/able to introduce the main goal yet, at least use an intermediate goal to propel the story.  For example, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World uses Scott’s relationship with Knives Chau to establish that Scott has major problems (he’s dealing with a hard break-up and is dating a high school girl) before we’re introduced to the main love interest and the Seven Evil Exes that are trying to keep Scott from the main love interest. In Iron-Man, we’re introduced to an intermediate villain (the terrorist that kidnapped Tony Stark) well before Tony realizes the identity of the main villain.  The Taxman Must Die starts with an intermediate villain trying to assassinate an IRS protagonist, but the actual villain is someone else altogether.


Problem 3: Nothing’s at stake and/or there isn’t any chance of failure. 


A. Show us that failure is possible by letting the character make a big mistake.  For example, Peter Parker’s most interesting decision–and possibly the most interesting thing about him altogether–is that he didn’t stop the robber, which got Uncle Ben killed.  A taste of failure raises the stakes on whether the character will actually succeed.


B. When a character fails, make sure there are real consequences.  If there are no consequences to failure, then it doesn’t really matter whether the character succeeds or not.  For example, some possible consequences of intermediate failures might include:

  • Suffering a major setback on the way to accomplishing his goal, preferably one that will make it harder for him to accomplish the goal next time.
  • A significant loss of status (like public humiliation or a demotion).
  • Suffering a major setback in an important relationship (like a breakup or a sidekick deciding to part ways).
  • The villain accomplishes some (usually intermediate) goal to raise the stakes.
  • Something unpleasant happens  to a loved one or bystanders.  This may be physical (like a hostage getting shot if a superhero screws up), but it might not be.  For example, if Al does something that causes Brenda to break up with him, and Brenda starts dating Carl to make Al feel jealous, Carl is collateral damage.
  • The hero loses faith and/or faces a new mental obstacle and/or exacerbates an old mental obstacle.
  • Allies become less committed to the hero, prospective allies are lost and/or new enemies emerge.
  • Serious injury.
  • The villain and/or the hero’s loved one(s) learn information that ends up damaging the hero.
  • An important resource is lost, damaged or destroyed.  For example, in one Seinfeld episode, George used a photograph of a beautiful woman (supposedly his dearly departed wife) to get into a super-exclusive club for supermodels… until he accidentally set the photograph on fire.
  • Getting fired.
  • Punishment.


C. Increase the challenge level so that the character will fail occasionally.  For more ideas there, please see this article.


D. What are 1-2 things this character wants to accomplish that readers wouldn’t want him to? You can have him approach those precipices to raise doubt about what, exactly, he/she will accomplish.  For example, a romance protagonist might start falling for a false love interest to raise doubt about whether he/she will find a way to be with a more sympathetic character.  Alternately, perhaps the character does accomplish the goal and later regrets it and/or has to deal with the consequences.  For example, Peter Parker wants to get back at a wrestling promoter that has screwed him, but Peter’s pettiness ends up getting his uncle killed.


Problem 4: The character is too passive.


A. Cut the whining–have the character act to solve his problems Complaining is very rarely an interesting course of action.  I’d much rather read about, say, a drafted superhero trying to get himself fired or blackmail his boss into letting him go than someone who just complains about how much he hates being drafted.  In particular, I’d recommend being creative with your young characters–e.g. if a kid wants something but his parents won’t buy it for him, have him try to enact some sort of plan to get it anyway rather than just complaining about how mean his parents are.  Whatever he tries (persuasion/reasoning, stealth/theft, coercion/extortion/blackmail, hard work, holding a series of bake-sales until he has $130 for a deactivated bazooka and $20 for a DVD about how to reactivate a deactivated bazooka, etc), it will surely be more interesting than complaining.


B. Raise the costs of inaction.  For example, pretty much all of the consequences for failure above could convince a character to act.  Alternately, perhaps the plot incorporates a ticking clock and there’s no time to sit around.  My favorite example of a ticking clock so far is D.O.A., a story about a poisoned detective who has two days to solve his own murder.

43 responses so far

43 Responses to “How to Make a Boring Character Interesting”

  1. Sheryl Gwytheron 02 Jan 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for this very useful post, B.Mc! I reckon you’ve covered all possibilities here – now to get to and tackle that pesky character in my work-in-progress.
    Happy New Year wishes from Australia. 🙂

  2. Kim Wilkinson 02 Jan 2012 at 4:18 pm

    This is brilliant. That is all.

  3. B. McKenzieon 02 Jan 2012 at 6:38 pm


  4. Danon 04 Jan 2012 at 12:13 pm

    This is great advice. Even if you think your characters are developed, look over what you’ve written and see what you can apply from this.

  5. David Jaceon 29 Jan 2012 at 2:30 pm

    These are great! I wish this were in a poster design, so I could post it on the wall of my middle school creative writing classroom. (They’ll never read basic print!)

    Seriously, this would be a great resource as a poster. It’s broken down well, has several very helpful points for each section… it’s great. Now we just need some flashy comic book characters to help sell it! Wonder where you could find some of those?

  6. B. McKenzieon 29 Jan 2012 at 3:40 pm

    “I wish this were in a poster design, so I could post it on the wall of my middle school creative writing classroom. (They’ll never read basic print!)” I’m not very visually inclined, but I tried making a poster out of it here. Please let me know what you think.

  7. Neilon 17 Jul 2012 at 6:05 pm

    My protagonist Derek. I’ve started writing him and such would like some feedback. For the plot of the story, he’s given a chance to become an Adjudicator. This organization’s sole mission is to stop evil and protect the innocent, kind of like the Green Lanterns. That said, all those chosen need to take a test called the “Rite of Inheritance”.

    This is specifically for the mystical objects the order has the Zoi Kistera or “Sphere of life”. The orbs have their own consciousness and such only bestow their power onto those who they prove worthy. It’s this reason why the “Rite of Inheritance” is held, to accomplish it.

    Alas, I apologize if I got to detailed with the plot,but my goal is to not cause confusion. In essence, when given this proposition, Derek REFUSES to go through the trail. The basis is that in his mind, the test is nothing more for those who wish to prove themselves.

    And given one of his major values is that he enjoys people who are content with themselves ( like himself), he saw no reason to go about it. Plus, he saw the group as people who were too stuffy and high and mighty for his taste.

    Of course he goes about the trail, through a combination of force by the Order and being goaded by one of the participants. So in essence, would this be an unusual decision? The basis of the action was to establish Derek as someone who was content with himself and that he hadn’t needed power at first to establish himself.

  8. Dr. Vo Spaderon 10 Oct 2012 at 4:42 pm

    …I have a character (who is the focus of the prologue). He is used only in the beginning, and at the end. The reason for this is that my second POV character is searching for him. As I reviewed my outline, I realized that he seems pretty boring (thus my posting in this article). Does anybody have any tips on how to make the character more interesting via POV 1 and POV 2’s conversations?

    I again apologize for any confusion, and would very much appreciate some advice!

  9. B. McKenzieon 10 Oct 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Rather than starting with a not-very-interesting character who is more of a plot device than a character, it might make more sense to start with either POV 1 or POV 2 interacting with the plot device character (either in conversation or in some other way).

  10. Dr. Vo Spaderon 10 Oct 2012 at 5:00 pm

    …Alright, thanks! Perhaps a flashback scene here? I also have a snide/prideful character. How could I make him likeable in a way? (His power is intelligence, but more of an understanding of people. Think the BBC Sherlock, but with social skills he refuses to use, as opposed to not having them.)

  11. B. McKenzieon 10 Oct 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Regarding likability, I’d recommend checking out this article and this one. In particular, when it comes to characters like BBC’s Holmes (or Tony Stark or Dr. House or The Mentalist), I think readers will cut the character a lot of slack if he has mostly-sympathetic goals and/or his rough edges in conversation are mixed with charm/charisma. Readers will also tolerate more from a competent and/or intelligent character. I think superior competence also helps separate the Tony Starks and James Bonds (abrasive but charming heroes who can command a story) from the Hal Jordans (asshole man-childs).

  12. Dr. Vo Spaderon 03 Dec 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Hey B. Mac – if there was a character with very little personality, would making him admit to that and attempt to compensate for it by doing dangerous things (extreme sports, skydiving, etc.) make him interesting? A friend had this question and now I’m curious.

  13. Dr. Vo Spaderon 03 Dec 2012 at 4:54 pm

    P.S. – A poor upbringing and always having what he wants would create the lack of personality in this.

  14. B. McKenzieon 03 Dec 2012 at 8:44 pm

    “If there was a character with very little personality, would making him admit to that attempt to compensate for it by doing dangerous things (extreme sports, etc) make him interesting?” I’d pitch it a bit differently, but I think the concept could be workable–perhaps a milquetoast character either has a midlife crisis or gets fired or gets passed up for a huge promotion or faces romantic catastrophe because he’s not interesting enough. But I don’t think being milquetoast needs to mean that he’s devoid of a personality.

    –Dilbert strikes me as more interesting than not even though he doesn’t have a very loud personality and is very reactive.
    –Speaking of midlife crises, Wreck It Ralph is sort of milquetoast for a 9 foot villain. (E.g. notice how much he lets the 9 year old walk all over him the first time they meet). In retrospect, that’s probably more interesting than if he had been really aggressive with her.
    –The protagonist of 40 Year Old Virgin.
    –Martian Manhunter sometimes has a bland personality when he isn’t being an unfeeling/overly cerebral hardass.
    –Peter Parker, most of the time. (Besides letting the robber go, he generally doesn’t get as many unusual decisions as, say, Iron Man or Batman).
    –Bilbo Baggins and/or Frodo?

  15. Dr. Vo Spaderon 16 May 2013 at 6:31 pm

    You know those shows where the characters aren’t police but are heavily involved in police work? (Psych, Sherlock, Finder [!], etc.) I was thinking with a friend and we thought up an idea for one of these types of people.

    A substanstial difference would be that this group doesn’t only work with the police. They also help out people who need help with things that they couldn’t exactly go to the police for.

    For instance, a guy leaves a bag of cash in a stolen car. His stolen car gets stolen, and the protagonist(s) agree to find the stolen stolen car for him. (I apologize if that is a horrible and confusing example.) Also, they may from time to time dabble in cons, thefts or “protection” like jobs of their own.

    And as well help the police solve some crimes. I know that this could create drama and potential twists, working with both sides, I just don’t know if it would be enough for a full novel. I love the concept, but…is it workable?

  16. Dr. Vo Spaderon 19 May 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Any thoughts on this anyone? 🙂

  17. B. McKenzieon 20 May 2013 at 12:30 am

    If properly motivated, I think it could work, DVS.

    1) I think most readers could pretty easily believe the police take on a freelancer/consultant with a fairly casual relationship. In superhero stories, we see something similar with SHIELD having the Avengers on call as freelancers/consultants more than actual employees. (Batman’s relationship with Jim Gordon is even more casual — Gordon doesn’t even have Batman’s phone number).

    2) If the police have any reason to suspect the character is also a criminal, I think it’d be challenging to make it believable that they choose to continue working with him. One possibility: the character has supernatural abilities or once-in-a-lifetime skill which is extremely hard to replace, and/or the crimes in question are relatively minor. For example, Sherlock Holmes occasionally breaks-and-enters into a suspect’s home when he has no other means of solving a case. I think it’d be pretty easy to excuse Sherlock Holmes or Patrick Jane committing fraud while solving a crime, but it’d raise a lot more questions if they were committing fraud or theft on the side for their own profit. (Seriously, if you need to steal for money, you’re probably not as good as Sherlock).

  18. Dr. Vo Spaderon 20 May 2013 at 4:08 pm

    @B. McKenzie,

    Good point. Would it be more believable if they weren’t officially brought in to help with other cases? Probably by a single detective who takes the credit (but pays them) in order to advance his career?

    And as far as stealing on the side…what if they needed ludicrous sums of cash for something? (Maybe paying off debts? Crazy medical bills for someone, relative or close friend? Perhaps a nice villa on a no-extradition island…)

    Or do these not help?

  19. B. McKenzieon 20 May 2013 at 4:35 pm

    As long as there are consequences and the decision makes sense, I think it would work. For example, perhaps a single detective has them as off-the-books assistants even though he knows or suspects that they’re criminals. This would make sense if he were desperate and/or corrupt, and I think it’d be great if the detective’s decision to trust them eventually had major repercussions (e.g. the police department eventually finds out what’s going on and there’s hell to pay).

    “As far as stealing on the side… what if they needed ludicrous sums of cash for something, like crazy medical bills for someone?” I can’t see the police signing off on using someone stealing “ludicrous sums of cash” unless there are extraordinary circumstances — e.g. major political pressure to solve a crucial case by any means necessary, utter desperation (either on the part of an individual cop or department-wide), corruption on the force, a plausible threat to humanity*, exceptional personal loyalty**, etc.

    *E.g. if Terminators and/or genocidal aliens are in play, it’s pretty easy to look past grand larceny.
    **E.g. On The Mentalist, all of Patrick Jane’s coworkers have witnessed him commit at least one felony, including temporarily burying a suspect alive to secure a confession. He’s saved all of their lives at least once, though, and on 95%+ of cases his misbehavior is limited to impoliteness and/or oddness rather than anything felonious.

  20. Dr. Vo Spaderon 20 May 2013 at 7:03 pm

    @B. McKenzie,

    To clarify, it wasn’t intended that they would steal large amounts of money at one time, just that they would pull off various jobs and save whatever they got.

    Reprecussion wise, we were thinking the detective would eventually be found out. Over the course of the novel, though, his relationship with the criminally inclined characters would have changed from an at-arms-length business to a closer friendship. That’s actually why I thought of the young and rich retirement on an island motivation…escape his punishment and imprisonment by leaving with them, maybe?

    Either way, thank-you! Several mistakes avoided with the help of you and your site!

  21. Nayanon 26 Jun 2013 at 4:26 am

    @B. Mac

    I don’t exactly can tell if a character is 2D or 3D. Could you describe by giving examples of known characters? Something like ” Batman or any other character is 2D/3D because … “. I want to know so that I don’t make my characters 2d.

  22. B. McKenzieon 03 Sep 2013 at 5:15 am

    One red flag for an overly simplistic character is that his personality can be 90%+ summarized in 1-3 words. For example, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have a hothead, joker, and a geek. A major character that simplistic probably does not have enough personality to drive a novel or maybe even a comic book. In contrast, more promising characters (e.g. Batman or Tony Stark) tend to have unexpected combinations of traits. For example, Tony Stark’s main flaw is a lack of restraint, whereas most brilliant scientists suffer most from a lack of courage or assertiveness.

  23. Jade D.on 12 Oct 2013 at 7:54 am

    In my story, a lot of conflicts are diplomatic vs. force vs. underhand ways of doing things. For instance, a rare atrifact needs to be used to translate an acient text, the dipomat in my group writes a nice little request form and sends in to the museum. In contrast, the former criminal mastermind decides he’s just going to take it because the world as we know it is going to end anyway. Are these the kind of things you were refering to in Problem 3?

  24. B. McKenzieon 12 Oct 2013 at 10:05 pm

    “Problem 3: Nothing’s at risk and/or there’s no chance of failure.” When your diplomat sends in the request form, hopefully there’s some chance the museum will say no and/or the piece will be unavailable by the time they’ve agreed to his request and/or making the request will trigger somebody else to steal it first. When the criminal mastermind attempts to steal the artifact, hopefully he faces a challenging amount of security and/or some other obstacle which makes us unsure whether he will succeed. In contrast, if someone like Superman needed to steal an artifact from a museum, chances are he could get in, grab the artifact, and get out without any chance of failure, which would be very undramatic.

    General suggestion #1: Make sure your characters have some chance of failing.

    #2: Make sure there are consequences when they fail or face setbacks. For example, if the thief does get caught by the police, please don’t have them just let him off with a warning.

  25. Elecon 14 Oct 2013 at 1:46 am

    “…in one Seinfeld episode…”

    Yay, you watch it too! I love the series and the incompetent characters, but they’ve recently stopped showing it on TV down in Australia, which annoys me greatly. No wonder you’re so funny :P.

  26. Glamtronon 26 Oct 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Please.. Uhh… I’m still working on it..but i need help.. How to make a quiet character likable and not end up being boring.. Thanks

  27. NatureWitchon 26 Oct 2013 at 12:59 pm

    If you aren’t going to describe what the persons thinks you can decribe alot of the characters body language. That could be used to get an inside view of the personality without actually having the character being talkative. Unless you are going with a stoic character. But I hope it helps 🙂

  28. B. McKenzieon 26 Oct 2013 at 6:39 pm

    “How to make a quiet character likable and not end up being boring…” If a character, especially a major character, doesn’t get many opportunities to say interesting things, it’s really important that the character gets opportunities to do interesting things and/or make interesting decisions.

    If we’re talking about a wallflower character that doesn’t get very many opportunities to say OR do interesting things, I’d definitely recommend reevaluating the character and/or the character’s role in the story. (E.g. giving the character some trait which is likely to make him/her active and ideally create conflict with other characters would be a great start).

    “If you aren’t going to describe what the persons thinks you can describe alot of the character’s body language.” I just watched Breaking Bad, so the first thing that comes to mind here is the antagonists Leonel & Marco Salamanca. They’re cartel serial killers who virtually never talk and communicate almost completely through nods and eye gestures. It makes their kills more terrifying. They never explain anything, which makes them feel more like a force of nature than just two mere hitmen.

  29. Anonymouson 19 Nov 2013 at 3:23 pm


  30. Ebonyon 30 Nov 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Wow thanks! I was writing a story and my main character was so boring and plain and then I found this and I wrote down lists of traits for her. Her traits are;
    Wise/ has integrity
    and there were way more!

    And her goal for the first part of the book (before the action starts) was to be more noticed by her family.

    I do have one question though. I don’t know what her other goal will be when the action does start. Would it be stupid to make it that she wants to survive? Or should i make it more personal and things? I don’t know. By the way the whole action part of it is that she gets into a dangerous situation because of this notebook that she wrote just random theories in that turned out to be true so she gets into this twirling momentum of danger and her only companion and helper is the son of the main an antagonist and he speaks Thai and she speaks English.

    Thanks by the way this really helped 🙂 Now I really like my character!

  31. Neilon 21 Mar 2014 at 6:41 am

    Greetings everyone. I am having trouble in regards to my main character, Kai. Alas, here is the story summary:

    “With a terrible war raging on Zavira, things seem bleak. That is not for Kai. Training for his life, he’d waited for his entire life for a chance. But upon inheriting a unique series of abilities, and discovering an amnesiac girl, things do not go according to plan. Can he prove himself and end the war that ravages his land? Or will he loose a part of himself during the process?”

    I apologize for the summary. Please bear in mind I wrote this in High School, as such it is quite cliche and bland. That said, I am trying to salvage this work, if possible. Reading this article, and thinking helped me spur several ideas as to turn this really bland character into something workable.

    To give an example, in the original story I had Kai have a tragic backstory, specifically where he lived a happy life, until the Kazodrik Empire (the main antagonistic force of the story) entered his village and his parents were killed. In the original story, I had his original goal be revenge.

    However, a thought came to me. What if he doesn’t yearn for revenge? Understandable, this would be difficult to justify, as many people could understand why he’d wanted. A method I had in mind to introduce this idea was that he’d originally wanted Revenge.

    In his backstory, Kai’s friend, Darren,had also lost his folks. Given they were childhood friends, both swore they would train and prepare themselves to join the army. This ostracized them from the fellow villagers, as they were fearful and wished to hide away from the conflict. However, when Darren left and joined the opposing military(He’s three years older than Kai, hence leaving him earlier), he’d died fighting them.

    While angered and upset at his friend’s loss, maybe it dawns on him that his goal for Revenge was misled, that it blinded him to the fact that even if he sought it out, if he died; it wasn’t like it was going to matter. Hence, Kai decided to abandon Revenge.

    Although he’s still steadfast on joining the Hylorin Military, as he believes giving up now would be an insult to his close friend and parents. Make no mistake; if he has the chance, Kai will want to seek out the person and ask why. Obviously, this will have plot-material.

    But overall how is that? Personally, while I admit it is out there, I think it can be workable.

    The second idea to make him interesting was to reinforce unusual decisions. For instance, upon saving a group of villagers from some bandits, the villagers ask for his help. Kai politely turns them down. When confronted by Gwen (second main character), he claims that there are many other villagers who have similar situations.

    As such, liberating one village wasn’t going to do much in the short run in helping the world, and that the only logical thing, in his view, is to defeat the Kazodrik Empire. Now,this would lead into her arguing against this, and in turn develop her reasons.

    I believe this is a very striking decision, in that if one were to put ninety plus percent of most heroes, they’d most likely help the village. This would establish that Kai’s steadfast in his goal of ending the war, and will not tolerate any actions that defer from this.

    All in all, how is all of this? I really want to make this rugged style character work. As such, I am open to any idea.

  32. Edwinon 09 Aug 2014 at 3:00 pm

    what is your opinion of superheroes getting married? i am currently writing a book and two characters are married, the main character is also engaged but the other member of the group is single. also, a hero in the story, but not a part of the group is married, but his wife lives in england with their child. while he travels throughout the US and Europe on business, sometimes taking his wife with him.

  33. Ryanon 20 Sep 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Hi, I have a character who isn’t the most featured protaganist, but is prbaly the 3rd most featured protaganist in the many point of views in my novel. I’ve already writes my first draft of the novel and thought that his role was quite good, but a friend said that he didn’t care at all for his character, it is important to me that this character is liked and cared for and u thought I made him intresting enough for people to like him but obviously not (or maybe my petty friend is just being spiteful), either way, how can I improve his character and make him more cared for by the readers even though the story is already written out and therefor can’t be that much alterd?

  34. B. McKenzieon 20 Sep 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Hello, Ryan. I have some ideas on how to make a character likable here. Some other thoughts and suggestions:

    1. What didn’t your friend like about this character? Do you believe that many other readers would share this concern? Would it be a problem if many readers did not like the character?

    2. It sounds totally unlikely that your friend is being spiteful and/or dishonest. Moving forward, I would recommend assuming that anybody who’s willing to spend hours reading an unpublished author’s work is providing honest feedback on what they feel. I generally recommend using strangers rather than friends, though, because friends (especially friends without publishing experience) tend to be too positive. I’d recommend referring the character to other readers — if several readers are noticing likability issues, there’s probably a problem there.

  35. LuckyClockworkon 01 Apr 2016 at 4:04 pm

    What I really have trouble with when creating characters is not that they have too few character traits (or too many), but that they tend to have *conflicting* character traits. For instance, a character I designed is described as both “amiable” and “brash/abrasive.” When I imagine these characters in my head, they make sense, but when I put them on paper, their conflicting personality traits make them confusing to follow.

    On one hand, I think that cognitive dissonance is natural, and makes a character more interesting. On the other hand, it can really confuse the reader. Thoughts?

  36. B. McKenzieon 01 Apr 2016 at 4:29 pm

    “What I really have trouble with when creating characters is not that they have too few character traits (or too many), but that they tend to have *conflicting* character traits. For instance, a character I designed is described as both “amiable” and “brash/abrasive.””

    I think it’s very natural for characters to experience different emotions and/or act differently in different situations. E.g. maybe there are some behaviors from others (e.g. inauthenticity, carelessness, incompetence, whatever) that bring out the abrasiveness, but there are some circumstances under which he would probably be less abrasive. If you have some idea of why a character might act one way in some situations and other ways in other situations, I think that’s probably okay, whereas an “anything goes” approach to characterization (where a character acts inconsistently depending on how the author is feeling that moment) would probably be less promising.

    In this case, the main concern I have is whether you’re on board with your character being brash/abrasive.

    Also, I have this excerpt from the article “What makes characters likable?

    14. Stark characterization. Please don’t make your characters “kind of an ass” or “sort of brave” or whatever. Go big! It’ll be more distinctive and interesting than a hero that just sort of does whatever is most convenient for the plot. Also, it will raise the stakes and make the conflicts sharper.

    Secondarily, “amiable” sounds a lot like “generically nice.” When your character is acting amiably, does he still get interesting social conflict in or is he just going with the flow? I think a high-conflict approach to conversation tends to be more memorable than something more mild-mannered. (On the other hand, if he still gets great conflict in, e.g. he puts on an appearance of friendliness/tact but is really a mace wrapped in velvet*, then the amiability would probably be memorable).

    *E.g. Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, maybe Pepper Potts, etc.

  37. Carlyon 10 Jun 2016 at 6:28 pm

    In my opinion, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with characters that are nice, since people that are nice are easy to get along with.

  38. B. McKenzieon 10 Jun 2016 at 7:35 pm

    PROSPECTIVE AUTHOR: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with characters that are nice, since people that are nice are easy to get along with.”
    PUBLISHER: “Thanks for your submission, but at this time we’re looking for stories where characters do interesting things.”

    Can you think of any scenarios where a character that is easy to get along with and plays it safe would be more interesting than a character that’s high-conflict and/or open to risky behavior? It doesn’t sound very promising. I’d suggest reading and watching more and paying attention to recurring personality traits. Super-pleasant, low-conflict characters (e.g. C-3P0) are usually very minor characters serving as a foil to develop the main characters by contrast.

    I think it’s very common (maybe almost universal) for main characters in almost every genre to have problems getting along with others (e.g. creating conflicts at school/work, having major problems following orders at work/school/home, getting told something like “give me your badge – you’re off this case” or threatened with suspension/expulsion/whatever, rarely backing down, being distinctive especially when it’s socially odd or out of line, rarely apologizing for distinctive behavior, pursuing goals even when friends/family/foes object, open to risk, etc). Fiction is systematically different than reality on this point, I think — while most people are relatively conflict-averse, it’d probably make for a boring story. Somebody that approaches problems like C-3P0 is probably just not a very promising protagonist, sorry. Quick rejection imminent.

    PS: Please check out Flashpoint for a set of VERY agreeable police officers that carefully work to avoid unnecessary confrontations in hostage situations, e.g. by using “dynamic waiting.” The show didn’t catch on at all, largely pummeled by 50+ more standard shows with (deep breath) defiant police officers that do pretty much the opposite of what their superiors tell them to, have altercations with everyone, and are virtually undeterrable.

  39. MajorDestructionon 26 Feb 2017 at 8:48 pm

    So I need advice.

    I want my character to face a test that she believes is requires strength but actually requires more thought.

    For example: All the soldiers in Captain America are promised a ride if the can get the flag from the top of the pole so they all try climbing the flagpole. Steve Rodgers uses his brain and pulls the pin from the pole.

    Or Disney’s Mulan figuring out how to climb pole.

    Any suggestions

  40. B. McKenzieon 26 Feb 2017 at 9:41 pm

    “I want my character to face a test that she believes is requires strength but actually requires more thought.” What’s the testing for? (E.g. 1940s military training will probably play out differently than, say, Xavier’s academy or ~500s military training). Also, what’s the genre?

  41. Rakeon 11 May 2017 at 3:54 am

    lts totally a superhero story…
    the first scene is to be one In which the mc is selected among others to undergo an experiment that has killed previous candidates, his father refuses and goes against the decree and searches for ways to save his son .
    definitely the mc has to go through with the experimentation (that is how he gets his powers) ,but the problem is why he survives something that killed others, so I decided that maybe the father could give him a serum before hand to strengthen his system giving him a chance of survival..but I got the impression that the father’s help makes my mc less active in the startup and won’t be noticed ; plus may make the mc less fit to tell the story …..
    can anyone suggest a twist or format that may keep the mc fully active (s. be really appreciated).

  42. Ally Dakotaon 11 May 2017 at 5:43 am

    What if the son stole a serum in order to make himself strong enough to survive the test? He’d be fully active in that way.

  43. B. McKenzieon 11 May 2017 at 5:21 pm

    “I got the impression that the father’s help makes my main character less active in the startup.” Yes, agreed. If you absolutely needed help from somebody else, I’d suggest someone involved in the testing or another test subject (winning over someone unrelated is probably more promising than using a family connection that she was born into).

    I don’t think using the serum as the main threat feels really promising, though. It feels more like a lottery than something that someone could think their way through, though… Alternatives might be helpful. For example, perhaps the character gets selected for something unpleasant and possibly dangerous (e.g. drafted into the infantry). He does something distinctive and active (e.g. maybe unnecessarily angering a military officer, or attempting to draft-dodge or go AWOL, or a major mistake on assignment) and gets re-assigned to a unit with chemical augmentation known to cause major health problems and probably generally assigned to the most dangerous jobs.

    Another possibility would be that the main character already had some HUGE health problem (e.g. paralysis or paraplegia), and might have been assigned to (or volunteered for) the job with chemical augmentation even though it was highly dangerous and/or unsavory because the chemicals might help and/or they wanted to minimize the risk to healthy subjects. (His teammates might generally have made very different choices, or be there totally against their will, so this could also be useful for generating conflict). Bonus points if his medical situation is tied to an interesting decision (e.g. driving 100+ mph or trying to climb a skyscraper or crashing a car en route to a job interview or date or some other high-stakes event are probably more promising for character development than just getting really unlucky).

    Some other ideas:

    –I like Ally’s theft idea for passing a testing scenario (it’s a lot more active than being given help, and it’s a decision that many other protagonists would not have made). However, I’m not sure what a character might steal to increase his chances of surviving a dangerous chemical augmentation process. Unless… maybe the military is experimenting with a new drug that helps people survive the chemical augmentation, but the main character believes that he’s been given the placebo and is likely to die unless he’s able to steal a dose of the experimental medicine.

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