How to Create Characters Your Readers Simp For
Characters are the most important part of any story. They are the beating heart and the blood that flows through your novel’s veins. Yes, your plot and world and story structure are also important, but most people will fall in love with a book because they love the characters.
Some might debate with me that plot is more important than character, but those people would be wrong.
Your plot is nothing without characters to push it forward. Your plot is nothing without a goal or motivation that drives your characters through your story. Your creative fantasy world is just a fancy backdrop without a cast of dynamic characters to interact with it and bring it to life.
Sometimes the perfect character will just pop into your head. Sometimes it takes a bit more planning. Regardless of how you do it, you need to give your character a few things to ensure they aren’t as one-dimensional as the page they’re written on.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- Using character archetypes
- The impact of genre on characters
- Developing their personalities
- Considering their physical appearance
- Giving them flaws
- Giving them an arc
- Ways to get deep inside your characters’ heads
Using Character Archetypes
Archetypes are a recognizable set of attributes, personality traits, goals, and faults that are common to one type of character. You can almost think of them like tropes for your characters. Each of them embodies a familiar aesthetic that your readers will immediately identify with. There are 14 common character archetypes which you can read about here. If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into each kind, we’ve got those for you, too:
This archetype rises up to meet every challenge. They can play the role of reluctant hero or someone who was born to fight villains. They’re typically courageous and honorable and stand up for those less powerful than them. This is one of the most common archetypes you’ll see and often the main character in your story.
Magicians often play the role of either the protagonist or the antagonist and their primary goal is to seek power. This doesn’t need to be literal magic—it can be money, political capital, knowledge, strength, or status. This drive can manifest itself in a use for good or for evil. Generally, the magician is intelligent, intuitive, perceptive, and clever.
The Lover is driven by their emotions and the things that make their heart happy. Contrary to its name, the Lover does not have to be part of a romance novel and they don’t have to seek romantic love. Their love might come from a love for their friends, family, god, or a passion that drives them. Lovers are often starry-eyed dreamers who are devoted, loyal, and compassionate.
These loveable characters often play the role of sidekick or comic relief. While they can be your main character, they often find themselves in a supporting position. They can be the one who shines a light on more serious issues or just be there for laughs. They often aren’t interested in the main character’s goals but rather move to their own beat, while sometimes providing surprisingly clever insights.
Explorers are the characters who seek adventure and break from the humdrum of their lives. They don’t wait for things to happen to them; they go out and look for excitement. They’re constantly pushing boundaries, whether those are physical, mental, or societal, and they embody courage, independence, and curiosity.
Known as the mentor type of character, they’re similar to the Magician, except their motivation is to serve others rather than themselves. These characters tend to be all-knowing and a little vague and mysterious. Regardless, they’re wise, patient, caring, and there to support your main character on their journey.
This wide-eyed character often comes in the form of the ‘chosen one’ and is either blissfully unaware of the troubles in the world or isn’t interested because they don’t impact them… yet. This character typically grows from their naïve worldview as they embark on their journey. Innocents are trusting, kind, sincere, and enthusiastic.
Rulers are the ones who… well, rule. They’re queens and dictators. They’re CEOs and tyrannical overlords. The ruler wants to control everyone and everything and they can use their powers for good or for evil. Their traits often include charisma, power, the ability to influence, and the ability to inspire.
As the name suggests, the Creator is the builder of dreams, desires, or objects. The mad scientist is a kind of Creator who's driven only by their need to fulfill their vision. Like many archetypes, the Creator can be a force of good or bad. They tend to be obsessive non-conformists with wild imaginations and big, creative goals.
This character usually plays a secondary role in stories and is the nurturer who gives of themselves selflessly (sometimes to their own detriment). They might be a parent, friend, or sibling who is there to guide your main character on their way. Unsurprisingly, they are loyal, compassionate, consistent, and honorable.
This is a character that most people can relate to because they are, as the name suggests, just your everyday person going about their life. (Of course, this is exactly the kind of character who’s ripe for a big change in their lives, which is why they make good main characters.) They don’t seek glory, but security and are empathetic, hard-working, and very relatable.
Outlaws and rebels are there to challenge order and structure, especially in the face of corrupt rulers. They seek to change the world order and don’t let anything get in their way. As rebellion leaders and instigators, they are usually charismatic and influential while also being resourceful and courageous.
An Orphan doesn’t need to literally be an orphan to fall under this archetype. Rather, this character usually comes from a destitute background and then finds themselves dropped into a world of grandeur and excitement. Orphans are often driven by a need for companionship, family, and that sense of belonging.
Seducers tend to make excellent villains thanks to the way they use their minds, their bodies, and their power to get whatever they want. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily evil of course, but they may walk that line. Seducers have the ability to manipulate and charm and are often clever, independent, and fall on the gray side of morality.
Consider Your Genre
Now that we’ve learned all the archetypes, consider how these characters fit within your genre. If you’re writing a modern day romance, your Sage is unlikely to be a wizard with a long beard. Maybe they’re a tarot card reader your protagonist stumbles upon on their way home from work or simply a wise neighbor who likes to get up in everyone’s business.
Similarly, your leader in a fantasy book is probably not going to be a corporate tycoon (or maybe they could be—I smell a cool genre mashup), but rather a benevolent queen or evil king. If you do go the tycoon route, consider how that typically modern character could fit into your fantasy world.
How you shape and develop your characters will be directly impacted by the genre you’re writing. The personalities, physical attributes, and goals are all directly tied to the tropes and spirit of your genre. A main character in a whodunnit is unlikely to have “overthrow corrupt government structure” on their to-do list.
Develop Their Personality
A character isn’t much without some kind of personality. Readers don’t tend to engage with flat, one-dimensional characters. There are numerous ways to dig into character personalities. You can use tools like enneagrams, Meyers-Briggs, or the various other personality tests that exist to get deep on how they might act in any number of specific situations. Pull one up and take a test as the character you’re trying to develop and see what comes out.
The Nine Avatars
Destiny Salter, a book coach and story craft expert, uses the Enneagram to develop nine avatars that represent different aspects of a personality. This can help create a strong foundation for your characters. In this article, she teaches you about the nine avatars and how to develop a profile for each of your characters.
Other Personality Tests
Here are a few more places you can go to dig deep into your character’s personalities:
- 16 Personalities
- Personality Perfect
- Human Metrics
- Test Color
- Berkley Emotional Intelligence
Give Them Goals and Motivation
Your characters need a goal. Something that pushes them forward to achieve their dreams or quest or whatever it is that moves them. Without character motivation, your story has little purpose and your protagonist has even less. The goals and motivations of your characters (especially your main character) are the reason you’re telling this story. Without it, they’re just a formless mass of words on paper. Which I guess is fine if that’s what you’re going for, but if you want to create someone your readers love and root for, they need to achieve something.
Goals and motivation can be big things—like overthrowing an evil empire—or they can be smaller things—like getting that promotion at work. Either way, the best characters yearn for something. If you need some ideas, here are a couple articles for you:
- 101 character goals that don’t involve anyone’s dead wife (If you’re wondering about the title, you’ll have to click to find out.)
- Types of Character Motivation - What Gets Them Out Of Bed?
And if you need any more convincing on why this is so important, take a look at this resource:
Consider Their Physical Appearance
Look, this matters. The gender, age, body type, skin color, and maybe even the hair color of your characters influences how your reader views them. So give some thought to what your character looks like. Even if you’re not the kind of writer that goes into describing what your characters look like, it can help deepen your connection with them.
A Fun Exercise
If you’re having trouble visualizing your characters, try logging on to Pinterest and searching for different types of attributes (i.e., dark-haired male). You can ask yourself what actor might play your character in a movie or simply gather some ideas onto a board of how you might imagine your character. (This will also come in handy later when you get that movie deal for your book.)
A Note on Skin Color
When describing the skin color of characters who aren’t white, be mindful how you talk about skin tones. It’s generally frowned upon to refer to people of color by food names as it leads to fetishization and can be very dehumanizing. If you want to read more about it, the blog Writing with Color offers some great insights.
Similarly, if you’re going to include diverse skin tones in your novels, then consider how you refer to characters of color versus white characters. Don’t only describe skin tone when it’s a non-white character, or you continue to perpetuate a narrative that suggests white is the default.
Some writers say they like to leave it open and allow people to imagine it how they want and you can do that, but understand that 95% of your readers will still default to white in their head, even readers of color, because we are so inundated with white media. It’s how we’re all wired.
Give Them Some Flaws
No one is perfect and your characters aren’t either. There’s a phenomenon referred to as a “Mary Sue,” which is a character that can do no wrong. They’re moral and honest and they never falter. They learn how to use a sword like a master after one lesson and everyone either wants to be them or be with them. Or both. Savvy readers tend to dislike this type of character.
Flaws and faults line up with motivation as well. Often, it’s that flaw or fault they need to overcome to achieve their goals. There are three levels of flaws you can give your characters:
Minor: This is something that simply distinguishes your character from the others, making them more memorable for your reader. They don’t affect the story so much as they might affect dialogue or reactions to events.
Major: This a flaw that truly affects your character and is somehow standing in their way, whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental. As discussed above, these might not actually be negative traits, depending on your character, but they are something that affects the plot and development of your characters.
Fatal: As the name implies, this is the kind of flaw that leads to a character’s death. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘hamartia’ and we often associate it with tragedies. In a fatal flaw, your character possesses some trait that brings an otherwise upstanding person to their downfall and eventual demise.
For more specific ideas on the types of faults you can give your character, check out this resource that includes a worksheet you can print out and refer to whenever you need some inspiration: Character Flaws—The Traits You Totally Don't See in Yourself
Give Them an Arc
The best kinds of characters grow and change throughout your narrative. A naïve, pampered princess can become a strong, self-assured woman. A cowering, lonely blacksmith can become the hero in his own story. Someone who’s terribly judgmental can learn to grow and be more open-minded. In a lot of cases, your character might need to overcome a flaw to develop that arc. See how this all comes together so nicely?
Creating a satisfying arc isn’t always easy as there are a lot of factors to consider. To help you go deep and then go high, here are a few resources to help develop those arcs:
- Creating Character Arcs: Torment Your Hero in Eight Steps
- What is a Character Arc? The Four Types with Examples
A Note on Villains
Villains can be some of the most fun and satisfying characters to create. Because of their unique role in stories, their development might look a little bit different. A good villain needs motivation–just like your hero–and their flaws are likely numerous. A good villain is comprised of these ingredients:
- Believable motivation
If you want to go more in depth on how to create a top-notch villain, check out this article:
Getting to know your characters
Now that we’ve covered all the components to consider, you might be wondering how you put this all together. A lot of writers enjoy creating extensive back stories for their characters while others just jump in and let their characters evolve while they’re writing.
Whichever side you fall on, it can be helpful to get some ideas and ask some questions to kick-start your process. With that in mind, we’ve got some resources that include character interviews and exercises to help you dive deep into who your imaginary people are:
If you’re looking for some inspiration, click on the link above for a list of character ideas you can borrow, copy, or steal (we won’t tell). Chances are these are just a starting point, anyway. As you go deeper into creating your character, it’s going to become your own, whether you want it to or not (though you probably do). This list delves into a variety of quirks, physical traits, relations, motivations, flaws, and philosophies you can apply to your own writing.
You can google all kinds of character interviews and it will bring up a lot of the same questions over and over. These are a great starting point and can be really useful, but to take things further, we’ve developed this list of some wild and wacky questions that are sure to get you thinking (and writing).
Similar to the above article, this one takes you deep into the character interview process, not only giving you ideas of what to ask your characters but how to use those answers, which characters to interview, and how you can bring it all together.
Dabble and character development
Once you’ve nailed down your fascinating roster of characters, you’ll want to keep track of them. Whether you describe your characters in their full glory before you start writing or prefer to add details as you go, the Notes function in Dabble is a handy tool for organizing and tracking them.
I like to group specific characters into folders that represent the different places they exist within the story. This can be especially handy when writing an epic fantasy with a large world and a big cast of characters.
I also like to use the Notes feature when I want a quick reference. In this list of characters below, their backstories were less relevant to the overall plot since they were tertiary characters. I just needed to remember what each one of them looked like at a moment’s notice. Here I included their name, a code that represents a series of incidents in my story, and a quick reference of their skin, hair, and eye color so that when I was writing, it was visible and easy to see.
Dabble makes it easy to make amazing characters that your readers will remember long after they finish your book. Want to try it for yourself? Dabble offers a free 14-day trial of all our Premium features, which you can get by clicking here–no credit card required. Get started writing today!
The Chosen One. It’s a trope that many people love to hate despite its pervasiveness across popular culture. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chosen One, it’s a popular trope or narrative device used across books, TV shows, and movies where a character is destined to fulfill a certain role or mission, often because they have unique abilities or traits. These traits are frequently tied to magic, meaning you’ll see this trope a lot in fantasy and other types of speculative fiction, especially those with a young adult audience.
So how do you write well then? Realistically, there are a few things universally considered “good” writing. The story should follow a logical plot where one action feeds into another. The characters should behave in ways that align with their established personalities. There should be some high points and low points and stuff in between. Generally, good writing is also well edited and follows most of the conventions for grammar and punctuation. While you can write well with typos and mistakes, you run the risk of distracting the reader to a point where that good story becomes not so good because it’s unreadable. Ultimately, the success of things like your voice and your characters are going to be up to your reader and you’ll never please everyone. But we can take some steps to ensure we please more people than not.
That’s great—our fiction should reflect the world as it is and that means including people of various ethnic backgrounds and skin tones. But the history of writing about people of color is kind of… awful and it’s important to remember that you can’t just throw in a BIPOC character without giving some serious thought to how you represent and describe that character.