How to Make Your Characters Pop

Characters can make or break your story. I always say a strong, unlikable character will drive readers more than a flat, boring character who could literally be anyone. Your character is a person, so they deserve to be treated like the complex individual they are. Before you sit down and write your story, here are some tips for making those characters pop.

1. Map out their background. Your character’s past influences who they are in the current story you’re writing. Where did they grow up? What’s their family life like? Childhood? Any traumatic/ happy life events that have affected them?

2. Develop them with an MTBI. An MTBI is a classic psychology personality test that says a lot about a person. You can be assigned one of two letters for four categories:

I or E: (Introvert) Shy or (Extrovert) outgoing?

S or N: (Sensing) Down to Earth or (Intuition) head in the clouds?

F or T: Do they make decisions based on (Feeling) emotions or (Thinking) logic?

J or P: (Judging) Type A or (Perceiving) Type B?

A combination of these letters lead to different traits and reactions in different people. You can read more about the MTBI here.

3. What are their insecurities? This says so much about a person. How your character reacts and makes choices stems off of their deep rooted insecurities

4. How do they react to things? On top of how people feel about things, people react outwardly different to different feelings? When they’re sad, do they cry openly and call their mom, or do they get really temperamental and moody? How do they act when they’re happy? Angry? Also what is their temperament and the level to which they react to things?

5. Get the basics down. Based off their insides and background, how do they look/ dress? What is their occupation/ interests? This has a lot to do with their inner personality

6. Don’t make your main character yourself. Since making characters are hard, I see so many new writers do this. While you can pick an aspect of your life and put it in a character (for example, you like art and so does your character), you cannot make every character you write 100% you. I knew a person in one of my classes who wrote every story about a college-aged girl who liked video games, was gay, and had issues with her father. Coincidentally, so did she. In order to write well, you have to push yourself to writing people who are different from you.

7. Find a voice. Your character should have a distinct voice. Even if you write in third person, unless you have an omniscient narrator, we should hear the character. Write as if you are in the mind of the character. Chances are a 13 year old would use the word stupid rather than vapid.

8. Know how they move and speak to each other. Certain people move differently, and certain people talk differently. One thing that helps this is to people watch. Watch interactions. Listen to conversations. Know what’s natural and unnatural when it comes to speech and movement.

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