Creating unique and interesting characters is my favorite writing experience. Character-driven narratives are some of the most fascinating things to explore in a story.
Writing unique characters can be a challenge though, especially the more you involve in your story. I’ve personally found that even writing characters across different (and unrelated) books gets to be a challenge. I want all of them to be special and stand out in their own way.
Here are some of the ways I change around my characters to make them stand out on the page.
Give them goals
A character without a motivation to do something is dull and boring. Even small motivations drive action and make a scene more exciting with a character. It could be as small as wanting a PBJ or as large as saving the universe.
If your character has no goals, they just sit around doing nothing. Think about what your character wants most in the world. Now, send them on a quest to do that. Of course, a story wouldn’t be interesting without some obstacles along the way. Think about what your character would NOT want in this situation and make that happen. Despite all odds, your character finds a way to solve the problem and get what they want.
For example, let’s tell a PBJ story (I am now hungry). Your character wants to eat a PBJ so let’s get him off the couch and toward the kitchen. But wait! There’s an obstacle related to your genre. Maybe he has a sleeping, shapeshifting kitten on his lap that he can’t disturb or it will wake up and become a murderous dragon. Maybe ninjas (his greatest fear) come in and block his path to the kitchen. Maybe he’s out of jelly!
Your character feels defeated but gets a new idea. Instead of waking the dragon, your character offers it a PBJ because it only went on murderous rampages because it was hungry. Maybe your character finds his second win, fueled by his desire for a sandwich, and defeats the ninjas against all odds. Maybe he finds a banana and marshmallow fluff instead and makes a different kind of sandwich.
Give your character a goal and a reason to accomplish this goal.
Give them purpose
Why does your character want to go after these goals. What is their purpose? Give them a reason to exist in this story.
What is the purpose of our man making a PBJ? Maybe he has a tragic backstory where a PBJ was his sister’s favorite sandwich and he eats one on the anniversary of her death. Maybe the ninjas are there to steal the last peanut butter jar on the planet. Perhaps the dragon kitten was tamed by this man to protect the peanut butter.
Okay, I know this example is ridiculous but it just proves that everything has a reason to exist, even if it’s silly.
Give them personality
I love adding a little flavor to my characters. Sometimes it comes in a catchphrase and sometimes it happens in little quirks. Either way, give them something that makes them stand out in the way they act.
I imagine our protagonist shouting peanut butter puns at the ninjas while he’s fighting them. Or maybe the man has a tough, dragon-slaying exterior but has grown a soft spot for his little dragon kitten. These are unique traits to our man that makes each story a little different.
Give them flaws
Everyone wants a relatable character — something that makes the protagonist more human. Even the non-humans should be made human(ish). Flaws are how we relate to the characters of our stories. We want to know that even the most perfect hero has some weakness.
Now use that weakness against them.
Above I mentioned the weakness of our tough, dragon-slaying, PBJ-making protagonist being this little dragon kitten. We also know he is afraid of ninjas. What if in his terror, the ninjas capture our little dragon kitten?
Now, help them overcome the weakness. They have a goal.
Despite being terrified of the ninjas, our protagonist has to save the kitten dragon… or wake it up. He overcomes his fear and defeats some ninjas. Then, he finds a way to wake up his sleeping kitten dragon who defeats the rest. Now they can enjoy their PBJ sandwiches in peace.
Secondary characters have these traits too
Some beginner writers focus solely on their main characters and only insert secondary characters when it suits the story. But these secondary characters need love too! They shouldn’t just be a plot device to move the story along.
What if the ninjas are on a mission from The President who is trying to get rid of all peanut butter because he’s allergic? What if ninjas are terrified of dragons? What if they also have a catchphrase and unique backstories?
Even our kitten dragon should have some sort of motivation. Maybe he was rescued by our protagonist and owes him a life-debt. Perhaps it’s the kitten dragon’s sole purpose to defend the last peanut butter jar on the planet even though our protagonist had no idea.
If you want your story to have even more engagement, make sure your secondary characters jump off the page too.
I love writing character-driven stories. You can find them on Amazon or you can read my first novel by joining my tribe. I share fun, inside looks at my writing life and my WIP. Now I’m thinking about writing a short story about this PBJ thing…