Question: I seem to have trouble with character description at times. I would like to know how to build strong characters in my novels.



All great stories include several essential elements including a well-structured plot, an opening hook, an engaging setting, and compelling characters. If a story’s main characters are stereotypical, one-dimensional, flat, or predictable, readers will lose interest and not care enough to keep reading. Here are 5 ways to make sure you are developing characters that will keep readers turning the pages:

1. Create conflict

Stories are largely driven by who the characters are, as well as their motivations. A story’s main character is called the “protagonist”. Giving this character a strong desire or need is essential to developing an interesting plot that can sustain a book. It’s through this main character’s lens that the story is told.

Every great protagonist needs an equally great “antagonist” to struggle against. The antagonist is the “villain” or force that attempts to keep your main character from reaching his or her goals. Without this conflict or opposition, a story will be dull, uninteresting, and unfocused. This opposition pushes your protagonist to grow and change throughout the story, and can come from a person, group, or internal/external force. Make your reader care by creating challenges for the main character early on in your story.

2. Make them relatable

Readers connect with main characters that they can easily relate to. Characters must feel authentic to be credible and believable. You want your readers to get pulled into the story by imagining the characters in real life, keeping them engaged. It’s important to think of your target audience when considering the relatability of your characters. For example, if you’re writing for young adults, you don’t want your main characters to be middle-aged women.

Book characters should be well-rounded with personality traits and flaws.3. Give them flaws

Make your characters even more relatable by exposing their weaknesses. We all have flaws. Giving your characters believable flaws will make them more human and interesting, and can lead to an emotional response from the reader in the form of sympathy. The more emotions a writer triggers, the better his or her story will be received. Even your protagonist can’t be perfect. Whether it’s a mental weakness such as fear, or a physical weakness such as some sort of impairment, make the flaw unique and let your character own it.

4. Make sure they are likable

Just like revealing a protagonist’s imperfections, writers must spend some time shaping the antagonist so that the reader doesn’t despise them. Not everyone is born evil, so explain why a villain is the way he or she is and give them at least one redeeming quality. Creating these types of backstories prior to writing gives you time to explore character motivations and actions, which will make for a more likeable, understandable character. You don’t want to do backstory information dumps, but you can use these histories to create more well-rounded and balanced characters.

5. Give them dimension

Strong characters have depth and complexities. Make them multidimensional by giving them likes and dislikes, personality traits, unique speech patterns, and more. Really study the people in your life and start noting all of their little idiosyncrasies. It’s these characteristics that make us all different, and when applied to the characters in your stories, will make them feel fully developed and unique.

“Meeting new characters in a novel is a little like meeting people for the first time when you’ve moved to a new town,” says editor Helga Schier. You want to create meaningful first impressions for readers, and then allow the readers to get to know the characters better as the story progresses.

All of the backstory and details you create may not make their way into the story, but will influence the characters’ decisions and reactions, and the story outcome.

Keep in mind that the more characters you introduce in a story, the more details and personalities you’ll have to manage. Readers may not need to know as much about supporting characters or characters that make a single appearance, but make sure any reoccurring characters are developed enough to add value to your story and keep the plot moving forward. For even more helpful content on this topic, click here.