How Do You Create Characters That Readers Will Fall In Love With?

The main reason editors give for rejecting my work (when they give a reason) is that they didn’t fall in love with my characters as they had hoped. This puzzles me because I have never fallen in love with any character I have read. I’ve liked some, found some interesting, but love? No.

I know what makes good characters — their strengths, their vulnerabilities, their flaws — but are these the things that make us love them? All I know is that I don’t like characters that have purposely been given flaws; they seem contrived and clichéd, like the boozing cop or the mother who can’t communicate with her teen-ager. Such purposeful flaws remind me of the Persian flaw. Supposedly, the Persian carpet makers put a flaw in every carpet because only God can be perfect; what that says to me is that they thought they were so perfect that they had to try to be imperfect, but such arrogance in itself is a flaw so they weren’t perfect after all.

I always wondered about that flaw in the carpet. I think the flaw come first and the rationale second. Can’t you just see the carpet maker in his stall at the bazaar telling an aggressive haggler, “No, ma’am, I can’t bring the price down any further. A flaw? What flaw? Oh, that. It’s not a flaw, it was put there on purpose because . . . because . . .only God is perfect. Yes, that’s it.”

But I digress.

I do know that interesting characters make interesting stories, not the other way around. And how you make characters interesting is to make them come alive by giving them traits that are a bit more exaggerated than real life. Who wants to read about a character who sits around watching television all the time, or who repeatedly has the same tiresome argument with their child, or who can’t resolve their problems? We deal with that every day. We don’t need to read about it. On the other hand, if the traits are too idealized, characters come across as comic book silly.

So how do you create characters that readers will fall in love with? I don’t know. Sometimes while writing this blog I can figure out the answer to a question that’s troubling me, but not today. Sorry. I’ll let you know when I do figure it out.

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4 Responses to “How Do You Create Characters That Readers Will Fall In Love With?”

  1. VM Says:

    It is like what my friends told me once when I was heartbroken. She was not the one for you. There is someone else who will love you. Maybe that ‘someone-else’ editor is waiting for your character. :)

  2. Suzanne Francis Says:

    I have “fallen in love” with several of my characters. It isn’t all good–I suffer when they suffer, and it depresses me to kill them. That authorial detachment can be useful.

    I based some of my major characters on people I know. Not so obviously that they would be able to recognize themselves, I hope, but the identification is there in the back of my mind. I think this helps to give them life, but once they are born they go off in different directions and end up being quite different.

  3. sonjanitschke Says:

    And how you make characters interesting is to make them come alive by giving them traits that are a bit more exaggerated than real life.

    I’m not sure I agree with that statement, but I find that I can’t really explain why.

    I don’t like to read about characters, I like to read about people in extraordinary circumstances or people entwined in unusual concepts.

    I guess there’s a fine distinction between the two, but I think my writing improved when I stopped seeing them as characters to serve my story but as people to guide my story.

  4. elizaw Says:

    Flaws (though the idea seems a little primitive) can be very useful. Take a spirited, loyal hero whose passion can turn quickly into a rage, occasionally superstitious, and cynical and idealistic in turns. Make his strengths serve your story. He’s the hero. He acts it. Then let his impulsive temper also further your story, and let him be partially responsible for the hole he digs himself into.


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