One thing Bang2writers ask me all the time is, “HOW do I write a great character?” and many of them get frustrated when I say, “it depends”. But it does! On any number of things, not least of all:

1) WHAT you’re trying to achieve 

Look. It’s very fashionable to say “character is everything”, but we know it’s not really:  a character-led drama is NOT the same as a high octane genre piece; literary fiction is NOT the same as genre fiction. That’s not to say characterisation doesn’t matter in the latter because that’s clearly not the case. But what you’re trying to ACHIEVE with that characterisation will differ. Le duh. MORE: 8 Questions For Kickass Characterisation

2) WHY you’re trying to achieve it 

Good writers – no matter what they write – know WHY they’re writing it. Because if they don’t, no one else can get on board with the story. Simple as that. MORE: Q: Aren’t *All* Movies “Character-Driven”?

3) How the character enters the story

So many writers become so invested in their characters, they forget to make the reader (or audience) do the same. So they’ll launch their character into the story with very little thought on where we’re seeing them for the first time. Sometimes, a character will simply walk into a room and start talking, just like that. Yet your character’s entrance is of UTMOST importance. Where is the character? What is s/he doing? What does this say about him/her? Why? MORE: Q: How Best To Introduce A Character? 

4) What level of complexity you need

Sometimes writers will overcomplicate things, often because they’re getting on their soapbox — and this is never more obvious in my experience than with female protagonists. Writers know modern audiences are boring of so-called “strong women”, so will try and write something “new” … but will end up perpetuating tired stereotypes. Sometimes it’s better to think of “complex”, rather than “strong”. MORE: 5 Ways To Write A Complex Female Character


5) What level of “unusual” you’re experimenting with

Some characters are so entrenched in a particular type of story or tale, that the moment you change it even SLIGHTLY, that character will seem wildly different. In others, audiences may not get it right away if you don’t clock them over the head with it. Whatever you end up doing however, it’s wise to remember you’re nearly always thinking “left of the middle” rather than completely “out there”. MORE: 4 Tips To Write An Unusual Character 

6) What journey the character takes

Storytelling is usually a journey of some kind (though that journey doesn’t HAVE to be about change). Whatever journey your characters undertake then, we have to get some idea of progression, from A to B to C, otherwise why are we watching or reading? MORE: 12 Character Journeys We Can Learn From (No Real Spoilers)

7) Knowing that *someone* will always hate your character!

Whenever a writer expresses worry *someone* will hate their character for WHATEVER reason, my answer is always the same:

i) You’ve gotta get your story produced or published first

ii) Some people out there are actively looking for trouble

iii) You cannot possibly please everyone, so just do the best you can.

What else is there?? MORE: 3 Issues With Casting That Great Character In The Produced Version Of Your Screenplay

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3 Responses to Top 7 Writing Tips For Great Characterisation

  1. Pinar Tarhan says:

    One of my characters has been deemed unlikable by one reader, most fascinating and best (among other characters) by another. With another story, one reader deemed my characters too quirky, and another not quirky enough.

    So just like you said, in the end, you do your best, be professional and decide when it stops being about a better, stronger story and starts being about individual taste. :)

    And yes, at least few people will hate one character or the other.

    I’ll soon hopefully be starting another story and am a little torn with points 4&5. It will be a romcom, but with a little realism, hopefully. So I’ve started brainstorming. :)

    • Roslyn Reid says:

      drives ya nutzoid, doesnt it? i mean the same thing being not enuf for one person & too much for another. the only thing you can do is follow yer heart :)

  2. susan slavinec says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I found it really helpful. I’m working on my first book and this subject on the developing such characters has always inspired me. I’m doing my best I think. As you say and I’m very aware you will never meet everyone’s taste .

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