Your Heroine Doesn’t Have to “Kick Ass” to be Strong

Your Heroine doesnt have to kick assEveryone wants a strong heroine.

We love characters who can kick ass like Katniss, Tris, Karou, Celaena, and Eowyn.

But what is it exactly that makes a heroine “strong”?

Lately, I’m having a problem with what the definition of “strong” has become in YA. Everyone seems to want a heroine who can kick ass, wield a sword, shoot a gun (or bow), throw a punch, and barely flinch when she’s hit by a bullet. She has to be able to keep up with the boys, and usually is better than them at fighting and can kick their butts too.

But why are we limiting “strong” heroines to girls who are physically strong and can fight as well as the guys?

I think there’s a problem with this, because strength comes in many different forms. What if a heroine can’t drop kick a villain or wield a sword? Does that mean she isn’t strong? No way!!

What about Rosa Parks? Esther? Sacajawea? Helen Keller? Harriett Tubman? Queen Elizabeth I? Eleanor Roosevelt?

Heroines who can kick ass are awesome, but we need more diversity in what makes a girl strong. Not all female readers are the kung-fu type, and they want to see themselves in stories. They need heroines they can relate to, and who show them you can be strong in different ways.

I like how Ava Jae over at Writability puts it:

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here.

I have a problem with seeing female characters who are feminine portrayed as weak, fearful, or prissy. I’ve noticed a trend that if a character in a book loves dresses, fixing her hair, and wearing makeup, she’s probably not the heroine. The “girly girl” characters are usually antagonists or obnoxious secondary characters.

Why do we tend to view girls who enjoy being typical girls as somehow weaker? And why is it that when we want to make our heroine strong we give her traditionally masculine traits and have them kick-ass, bottle up their emotions, and hate dresses, makeup, etc.?

I would love to see some heroines who love being girls! Why can’t a heroine love a pretty dress and be strong?

As a writer, I struggle with creating female characters. Why? Because I worry if I make them too feminine readers will see them as weak and annoying. Which is ridiculous! Being feminine does not make a girl weak!

I like kick-ass heroines, but I also like writing characters who are more “traditional” girls but still strong. My heroine in my current novel is a mix between these two. She has been trained as a fighter, but she loves dresses and being a girl. There’s a part in the story where she has to cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy, and it kills her. She loves her hair, and she loves looking like a girl.

Does this make her weak? I don’t think so. But I’ve been struggling over her because I’m afraid other readers will think so.

Our perception of female strength needs to change. We need to stop labeling “feminine” traits as weak and “masculine” traits as strong and let our heroines be strong people no matter which traits they have.

We need all types of strong girls in YA. We need girls who can wield a sword like Katsa, and girls whose cleverness saves the day like Hermione Granger. How will you make your heroine strong?

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How Your Hero’s Goal Shapes Your Plot

How Your Hero's GoalWhat is your hero’s goal? What is he trying to achieve in your story?

If you’re not sure or you’re sitting there scratching your head, you have some work to do!

It’s crucial for your hero to have a goal. If he doesn’t, you have no story. “Well why not?” you ask?

Because your hero’s goal is what drives the story. It’s the story’s purpose. Like a ripple effect, it influences your entire plot.

What is Your Hero’s Goal?

A novel is essentially a story about a character who wants something and sets out to get it, faces challenges along the way, and either fails or succeeds to attain his desire.

So, what does your character want?

  • Frodo wants to destroy the ring.
  • Katniss wants to win the Hunger Games.
  • The Pevensie siblings want to end the rule of the White Witch in Narnia.

If your character doesn’t want anything, there’s no point in telling his story. Actually, without a goal you don’t have a story–just a string of random events. Your hero’s goal is what unifies events into a plot.

Be sure to make it clear as soon as possible what your character’s goal is. Of course you’ll spend time in the beginning setting up your characters and plot, but don’t wait until halfway through your story to clue readers in to your hero’s goal.

If readers don’t know the goal, the story will feel pointless and random, with no clear direction. They might even begin to wonder if you know where you’re going with this thing. And you do know, don’t you? 😉

What are the Stakes?

What happens if your hero doesn’t achieve his goal? These consequences are called stakes.

  • If Frodo doesn’t destroy the ring, Sauron will take over Middle Earth, destroy his home, and enslave or kill his friends.
  • If Katniss doesn’t win the Hunger Games, she will die and there won’t be anyone to provide for her mother and sister.
  • If the Pevensie siblings don’t defeat the White Witch, Narnia will be trapped in eternal winter and they will either be killed or stuck and unable to return home.

Stakes give your character a reason to fight. When creating your stakes, make it personal to the hero in some way so the fight is his. With your goal and stakes clearly presented in your story, the reader will be able to pull for your character and it will give them a reason to keep reading.

What Obstacles are in the Way?

Every scene should move your character closer to or further from his goal in some way. What is keeping your character from getting what he wants? What does he have to overcome?

  • To destroy the ring, Frodo has to evade wraiths and orcs and travel all the way to Mordor.
  • To win the Hunger Games, Katniss is faced with killing other opponents, which goes against what she believes in.
  • To defeat the White Witch, the Pevensie siblings must battle her army.

There are tons of obstacles in a story, some large and some small. Some may be physical and others may be internal. But always your character should be facing some sort of opposition. That’s what keeps your reader reading–to find out if the hero will overcome the challenges and win!

If your story feels off-track or meandering, consider your character’s goal. You may have lost sight of it, or you may not be letting it drive your story.

Use Goal When Plotting

Now that you understand how your character’s goal shapes your plot, take advantage of it. Whenever I have ideas for a new story and I’m trying to come up with a plot, I start by asking myself what this character wants.

I used to create plots by stringing together scenes I thought were cool or exciting, with just the vague idea that in the end my hero would defeat the villain. This worked okay, but I ended up with a lot of unnecessary scenes, the story would wander, and the hero didn’t have a personal reason for saving the world (Really, he could have just saved himself all the trouble and stayed at home and let someone else do it!).

Starting off plotting with my character’s goal has helped me tremendously. It has made my plots clearer and tighter and has helped me to develop a plot much faster. This strategy may not work for everyone, but whether or not you start planning your story with your character’s goal you will definitely need to give it attention.

Do you know what your character’s goal is in your current story?

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How to Make Readers Care

how to make readers careWhy do readers read? What makes a story stick with them after they’ve turned the final page?

The secret lies in the characters. Sure the story might be interesting, but it’s the characters we connect with and experience it through.

They become our friends and we love to care about them. They make us laugh, cry, get angry, and fear for their well-being.

We keep reading a story because we care about the characters, and therefore care about what happens to them. If the reader doesn’t care about your characters, she won’t care to finish your novel. Which is not what you want!

So how do you make readers care about fictional people?

You engage their emotions.

“In order for a reader to connect with a story, he must feel that he has a stake in the character’s plight and must care about the outcome.” — from Emotion Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St. John

No matter how spectacular of a plot you have, your story will fall flat if your reader cannot connect with the characters on an emotional level. What keeps a reader turning the pages is the desire to find out what will happen to the characters that she cares about.

So how do you make a reader care about your character so that she will root for him/her to achieve his/her goal? You must make your characters sympathetic, relatable, likeable, flawed, and interesting. Let’s look at an example—Ana from Frozen.

Sympathetic

Straight away we see that Ana is isolated from her sister, whom she loves. When the girls’ parents die they are left alone. With no friends and a sister who won’t speak to her for reasons she doesn’t understand, Ana is lonely and desperate for love.

Likable

Ana has a fun personality—she’s bubbly, outgoing, and optimistic. She also has a strong love for her sister, even though Elsa has shut her out for so many years.

Note that not all characters have to be “nice” to be likable. For example, Katniss isn’t sociable or friendly, but she has positive qualities. Your character needs at least one positive quality to make readers like them, and you need to show it as early as possible.

Relatable

Ana is just like any girl—she loves chocolate and dreams of meeting “the one.” She’s also a bit of a dork.

Flawed

Ana isn’t perfect. She’s a little naive (you can’t marry a man you just met!) and she also tends to be clumsy and has a habit of babbling. She can also be a little over-confident at times. No one wants to read about a perfect character—perfect is boring! Ana’s flaws make her charming and realistic.

Interesting

Ana’s quirky personality makes her interesting and likable.

All of these qualities make us care about Ana. We want her to achieve her goal of bringing her sister Elsa home and repairing their relationship. We root for her along every step of the way.

Let’s look at another example.

Let’s say you’re reading a story about a Halloween party. Turns out there’s a real vampire in the room, and it murders a young woman. Interesting, exciting maybe, but other than that you’re indifferent about the situation because you don’t know the woman.

Let’s say beforehand you were shown that the woman is a single mother of two small children. She recently divorced her abusive husband and her girlfriends have talked her into going out with them tonight. Then she is murdered. Now some feelings might be stirred.

Think back to the last book you didn’t like. For me, it was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Why didn’t you like the book?

I’m willing to bet you had an issue with the characters. The concept for The Maze Runner was interesting, but the characters were flat and I couldn’t connect with them emotionally. I didn’t care about them, so I didn’t care about what happened to them and I skimmed.

Conflict will not matter if the reader doesn’t care about your characters. So take the time to flesh out your characters, give them personalities, strengths, flaws, interests, and pasts so that your reader will connect with them and care about their fate.

What characters do you care about in books you’ve read? What makes you care about them?

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How to Write from a Girl’s POV

Girl POVEarlier this week we looked at How to Write From a Guy’s POV. This time, we’re going to explore how to write from a girl’s POV.

Fellas, I’m going to try to help you out the best I can here. I know a lot of you are confused by us females and the thought of getting into a girl’s head to write a story from her perspective might be kind of scary.

But I’m going to try to help you understand us girls a little better, and give you pointers for writing convincing female characters.

Now, into the fray!

Person First, Girl Second

To help take some of the pressure off, remember that a girl is a person just like a guy. Be sure to write a person first and a girl second. Sure we may see some things differently, but we’re connected by the human experience—we’ve all experienced pain, loss, joy, fear, excitement, etc.

Though sometimes it may seem like we come from another planet, girls are human too! 😉

Avoid Gender Stereotypes

Not all girls are good at cooking, wear makeup, love fashion, freak out over bugs, obsesses over their weight, cry at sappy movies, suck at math or science, are clueless about cars, can’t use power tools, are helpless damsels in distress…shall I continue?

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a girl character be any of these things. Just be aware of the stereotypes and add more to her character than a labeled identity. Which brings me to my next point…

Create a Character with Depth

Give your heroine more than a pretty face–develop her character and personality. What was her childhood like? What’s her worst fear? Her dreams for the future? What does she like and dislike? What are her talents? Her interests? Make her more than the hero’s love interest or a damsel for him to save.

And please don’t make her impossible, super-model gorgeous. You know how you hate when female authors do this with their male characters? Yeah, we don’t like it either when the tables are flipped. We want a female character we can relate to. And unattainable beauty is not relateable.

Some Things for Guys to Consider About Girls…

**DISCLAIMER: Girls are unique individuals just like guys. Not all of these will apply to every girl, just like some things (like being athletic or good at math) don’t apply to all guys. So get to know your character first.**

Emotions

I know there’s probably nothing more terrifying than girls and their emotions 😉 We can’t help it; we tend to be more emotionally driven like guys tend to be more physically driven. We crave an emotional connection and intimacy, which is why girls value friendships so much.

Girls like to talk about their feelings–it’s how we deal with them. Most of us are more comfortable with letting our emotions show than guys. We want to be understood, and we want to share our innermost selves with you. It’s how we make a connection and deepen a friendship or relationship.

Girl Talk

Girls love to talk. We gossip, we talk about boys, we have heart-to-hearts, and we share the dumbest little details like what we ate that day. To us, talking is how we get to know a person and form a bond with them. Guys bond through physical roughhousing and sports, girls bond through talking and sharing emotions.

For us, silence can be uncomfortable. Why aren’t you talking to me? Is something wrong? Are you mad? Did I do something? For a girl, silence might signal a rift in the bond.

Girls also aren’t as direct as guys–we don’t always come out and say what we’re thinking. Which is why if a girl snaps at you that she’s “fine” you should assume she’s anything but.

And by the way, if there is a cute guy in the room you had better bet if we are with our girl friends we will probably whisper and giggle about him and point him out to each other if we can get away with it without being caught.

Over-thinking

Girls have a lot of stuff going on in their brains. When a guy tells me sometimes he can simply think about “nothing,” I can’t comprehend that. My head is always full, my thoughts are always darting from one thing to the next.

Picture an internet browser with 20 tabs open. Yep, that’s the female mind.

But not only do we think about a lot of stuff, we also tend to over-think anything and everything. From what we should wear today, what color we should dye our hair, what book we should buy, to…does he like me?

I don’t think there’s anything girls over-analyze more than a guy’s behavior.

If we like a guy, we will look for any excuse to give us hope that me might like us back. Even if that means making excuses for his words and actions or interpreting them the way we want to hear/see them. (If you want to see a funny representation of this, watch the movie He’s Just Not That Into You. Good insight into the female thought process 😉 ).

Traveling in Packs

So this completely bewilders guys. Why do girls always go to the bathroom together? Why are they always traveling in packs? Sometimes, girls don’t even understand it themselves.

But basically, it’s not just a social comfort thing  and our need for friendship, it’s also a safety thing (even if we aren’t aware of it). This is hard for a guy to understand, but sometimes being a girl feels like being prey. Guys “hunt” and “chase” us…and unfortunately sometimes even stalk us.

Girls have to be more careful than guys because as much as I hate to say it, I know for me at least there is that fear in the back of your mind of being attacked and raped. Now of course I don’t think about this all the time, but there are certain situations when I become very cautious.

For example, when I have a night class I don’t walk out to my car alone. Girls are taught to stick together, use the buddy system, avoid dark alleys, don’t go running at night, don’t walk alone at night. We carry mace or walk to our cars with our keys threaded between our fingers as weapons.

We’re also discouraged from traveling alone. As a girl who wants to see the world, this really gets under my skin. I hate feeling limited because of my gender. In fact, it pisses me off. But I have to face the facts: I have to be careful because a guy is physically stronger than me. If he wants to hurt me, I’m at a disadvantage.

So basically, try to understand the vulnerability girls may sometimes feel.

Other Tips

Talk to the girls in your life and don’t be afraid to ask them questions! Observe us, watch some chick-flicks, try to get into our minds.

Also, read books from the POV of female characters. That will help you to get a feel for writing female characters more than anything! (I’d also recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green–he writes the female character very well.)

And be patient. It may take practice and time for you to feel comfortable writing another gender. And if you still have doubts, have a girl read your story. She will be able to point out any faults and you will be able to learn from your mistakes.

Any other questions about writing female characters? Post them below!

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How to Write from a Guy’s POV

how to write from a guys pov

We definitely need more male protagonists in YA, but as a lot of writers are women it can be challenging to write from a guy’s POV. But ladies, I promise it’s not as scary as it seems!

I thought writing from the opposite gender is an important topic to cover, so I’ll be doing it in two parts–one for male POV, and one for female POV.

Today we’re going to explore how to write from a guy’s POV if you’re a girl. Obviously I have no idea what it’s like to be inside a guy’s head, so I asked my friend Brett to help me out! (Check out his awesome blog here).

He was kind enough to answer my questions with some really awesome insights into a guy’s mind that you ladies will find helpful (and maybe even surprising) in your writing. So I’ll shut up now and let you get to the good stuff 😉

What goes on in a guy’s head? 

BRETT: The same things that go through most people’s heads. Responsibilities, deadlines, family, life. Sometimes, there’s just–nothing.

What do you think are some of the differences between how guys/girls think? How we approach a problem? A dangerous situation?

BRETT: In general, I believe girls are more likely to think empathetically (I’ll avoid using the word ’emotionally’ because of the bad connotations). Guys are (generally) more pragmatic–for every problem, there is a solution, but often the consequences don’t matter as much as simply solving the issue to begin with.

It’s generally true that girls approach a problem more logically–they can often see ways around a problem or solutions that guys just simply missed. Exactly how, I’ll never know. I think most guys just try the direct, brute-force way first.

With regards to a dangerous situation, I think all guys would like to assume they’d be the first to act bravely. Whether it’s a by-product of Hollywood’s era of stereotypical action guys, I think most men/guys would look for a physical way to end conflict–the quickest, most direct method you can imagine.

Depending on a guy’s natural physique–a big buff guy versus a smaller guy–it might be a direct de-escalation using physical contact, or via using an environmental object: anything blunt, heavy, or sharp.

How do guys deal with their feelings, especially anger and sadness? When should guy characters cry?

BRETT: Most guys like to imagine they don’t have those things called ‘feelings.’ It’s assumed that men should just bury their emotions and move on–this differs with personality traits, but the ‘push it deep down’ approach works 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the time, it’s bottled up until it eventually bursts.

Guy characters should cry, but it takes a lot to push a guy to such an emotional breakdown–particularly one that isn’t anger. That’s the difference. You push a guy, he’ll get angry; you break a guy, he’ll cry.

So think out of the box here–you can’t just tear something away, that will only elicit a physical reaction (see above), whereas crippling a guy with something psychologically damaging will bring out the tears.

Men are different, but not complete robots. Losing a loved one will always make someone cry, but guys usually hold back their emotions as long as possible.

Do guys really think about sex all the time? How do they see girls? How much should we stress how guys notice girls?

BRETT: To the first question–don’t believe everything you read in Cosmo magazine. Men don’t obsess about sex, and if they do, they’re not the type of guy you want to hang out with.

To the second question–guys always notice girls. In the same way that guys always notice every threatening-looking guy in a room, or the same way they notice if there’s a television.

The second look–the double-take–that’s the big one. The first look doesn’t count, that’s instinctual. The second look means we’re interested, or at least, willing to double-check.

As for girls noticing guys…most girls immediately get the wrong impression, that a guy looking at them is instantly in love. He might be attracted to you, he might also think you’re out of his league.

Don’t forget that one–as a guy, the general rule of thumb is, “Unless you know otherwise, she’s taken.” To that extent, guys can look at girls, imagine what it might be like with her in a relationship, but then tell themselves a dozen reasons that wouldn’t work.

And again, speaking for almost all guys out there–please, girls take the first step. It’s very hard for us to gauge reactions and emotions, and subtle hints are almost entirely lost on us. Let us know if you have a boyfriend, let us know if you like us. Most guys don’t like the ‘chase’–please, just be upfront.

How do guys interact with other guys vs. girls?

BRETT: Guy conversations generally involve the least amount of words possible. Most guys only have two or three things in common with each other–sport, work, music, games, food; outside of that, there’s very little to talk about. Gossip is off the table–no guy has ever wanted to talk about ‘what happened last weekend’ unless it involved one of the five prescribed categories.

For talking with girls…it varies heavily on personality. Some guys are very shy around girls, some guys are full of confidence and swagger. Down the middle line, there’s people like me who just try to be amicable and get a laugh out of you, whether you’re a guy or a girl.

Depending on whether the guy thinks the girl may or may not like him affects how they approach the conversation. It’s not usual for guys to have platonic friendships with girls–either they’re hoping something might happen, or they’re so deep in the friendzone that they now consider you ‘one of the guys’ (which isn’t necessarily a compliment).

Tips for male dialogue?

BRETT: To the point. Guys have something to say, and they’ll say it. Conversations typically are on a topic that’s probably not all that important, until it eventually dies down when nobody has anything left to say.

If two guys disagree on something–watch out. Most guys are pretty hot-headed, and you can expect some flaring tensions and arguments over decisions or directions. Everyone has an opinion, and theirs is better than yours.

What about body language, gestures, mannerisms etc.?

BRETT: Almost all guys are defensive all the time. Lots of crossed arms, lots of small head-nods in agreement. Friendly guys will go for the back-slap or hair-ruffle (though ruffling is a bit demeaning, it’s the older-brother-little-brother gesture).

With girls, it’s far more awkward. Maybe some casual, testing-the-water touches. Otherwise, guys are typically quite self-conscious around girls, more so than most YA novels would have you believe.

Any gender stereotypes to avoid?

BRETT: All men are buff, awesome dudes who know how to fix cars and fight people. Also, avoid the ‘awesome hunk with giant muscles who’s also super funny and smart.’ Sure there are some smart people who are fit, but you don’t get everything in life.

All guys don’t know how to fix cars or jimmy locks. Create a character who isn’t absolutely perfect–everyone has flaws. Try for realistic guys who have actual weaknesses. 

Any misconceptions to avoid?

BRETT: The misconception that guys are oblivious to girls’ feelings. We understand, we just don’t know what to do about it.

Also avoid the ‘skinny dudes are awkward nerds.’ I’m pretty lightweight, but not a nerd. Believe it or not, girls can fall in love with a guy who isn’t Fabio. Endlessly reading novels about the super-awesome-muscles-guy who gets the gorgeous girl gets old fast, and doesn’t represent the real world’s concept of love–which is far more than just big muscles and square jaws.

Any tips for balancing the physical and internal aspects of a guy character? I feel like there’s a danger of making him all physical with no emotion.

BRETT: Same as above, really. Balance is the key–big buff guys aren’t completely oblivious, they just don’t know how to respond; on the other side, non-physical guys can be smart and perceptive.

And guys are complex–we have feelings, emotions, pasts that we bury and don’t talk about. Try opening a guy up, explore him. Why is he big and buff? Is it because his father was a footballer and pressured his son into becoming a quarterback? Does the guy regret slacking off on his education to pursue that physical image?

And the skinny guy–what’s his past been? Bullied, had his self-esteem cut because the world tells him that only strong, awesome guys get the girls? Does he harbor resentment towards those people?

Have you ever read any books with male characters by women authors that were poor representations? i.e. What NOT to do?

BRETT: Almost (emphasis on almost) every YA novel written by a female author portrays the ‘perfect guy’ with the rippling muscles, chiseled jaw, moody eyes, and gentle touch.

Fiction isn’t meant to be a complete fantasy–it should be realistic, and not create dreamboat characters who can do no wrong, who have no flaws physically or mentally.

If you want a balanced guy character, read YA’s written by MALE authors, who know this better. Think Thomas or Newt from The Maze Runner–lean, determined, equal parts brave and afraid. Think Connor from Unwind–strong, good-looking but blinded by his own goals, and occasionally insensitive.

There are two ‘good’ examples from a female author–Peeta from The Hunger Games comes to mind. Although Gale is portrayed as the standard, awesome-buff guy, Peeta is..not. He has core strength, but he’s just a baker’s son, never actively shows us any specific attributes indicating he’s a hunk. He’s just a guy who mistakenly loves a girl out of his league. A rather perfect character for me.

And J.K. Rowling of course did an outstanding job with Ron Weasley. Harry…not so much. But Ron proved that even the most awkward, bumbling guy can grow, can become a sports star, can get the girl, without having the ‘hero’ swoop in and steal the show.

And on a final note–please, please, please write a CHARACTER first. Write a human being with goals, desires, secrets, resentment, and happiness. Write a PERSON that the reader can empathize with. Readers want to be entertained, and they want the character to achieve their goal; whether they’re a guy or a girl, it doesn’t matter.

Wow–thanks, Brett!!! So there you have it ladies! Hopefully this valuable insight will help you create awesome male characters and make you more confident about writing from their POV. Any thoughts or questions? Post them below–Brett will be swinging by the blog to answer them 🙂

UP NEXT: On Saturday we’ll look at how to write from a female character’s POV if you’re a guy. Hope to see you then!

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How to Create Life-like Characters in 6 Steps

post3 finCharacters are the life’s blood of your story.

We read about characters we care about to find out what will happen to them. If you have a killer plot but flat characters, the reader won’t bother to finish your story because they won’t care what happens to your characters.

So how do you make readers care about people who don’t exist?

By making your characters feel real. A character becomes life-like when you flesh him out and layer him with details—and I don’t just mean favorite food, band, or what color underwear he’s wearing. Those little details have their place, but to truly make a character come to life, we must dig deeper.

For this post, I will be using the character Elsa from Frozen as an example (If you haven’t seen the movie you must have a frozen heart and need to go crawl into a corner in shame). Let’s begin, shall we?

STEP #1: Childhood/Family

A person is heavily shaped and influenced by how they grew up and what sort of family they had. Did your character have a happy childhood, or was he abused or abandoned? How does his past affect who he is today?

 Elsa:  Her parents didn’t approve of her powers and wanted her to hide them. When she accidentally hurt Ana, she felt shame and guilt and tried even harder to suppress them. She cut herself off from Ana to try to protect her. Elsa’s childhood experiences had a huge impact on her character–she doesn’t know how to control her powers and feels like an outcast.

STEP #2: Hopes and Dreams

We all have them, and giving your character one will help reveal more about who he is. What is the deepest desire of his heart? Does he want to find true love? Travel to India? Start his own business? His dream doesn’t have to be the goal of the story, but it will reveal more about him.

Elsa:  She wants to be able to be herself and live alone in her ice palace in peace where she won’t be a danger to anyone.

STEP #3: Fears

Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. Bruce Wayne is afraid of bats. Ron Weasley is afraid of spiders. Giving your character a fear makes him more relatable. It doesn’t have to be a fear of something physical, it can also be a fear of something abstract like loss, loneliness, or the dark.

Elsa: She is afraid of her powers throughout most of the movie. She fears them because she doesn’t know how to control them, and she is afraid she will hurt Ana again.

STEP #4: Flaws

If you make your character perfect, he won’t be relatable and will feel unrealistic *cough*EdwardCullen*cough.* Consider both internal and external flaws. For example, Ron Weasley in Harry Potter  is described as gangly, and he also has a temper and tends to swear. He’s not portrayed as perfect, which is what is charming and likable about him.

Elsa: She spent her childhood shutting Ana out and keeping secrets from her. She is too insecure and ashamed to be herself and be honest with Ana.

STEP #5: Strengths vs. Weaknesses

What are your character’s strengths? Is he honest, loyal, or good with a sword? Again, think both internal and external. Whatever strengths you give him, you will also have to balance them out with weaknesses. Does he act before he thinks, have a gambling habit, or is terrible at cooking?

Elsa: Her strength is her love and loyalty for her sister, which breaks the spell and saves Ana’s life. But her weakness is  her insecurity with being herself and her inability to control her powers.

STEP #6: Outlook/beliefs

The way your character sees the world will affect his personality. Is he a pessimist or optimist? Does he believe in Hinduism or is he Jewish? Is he cynical or naïve?

Elsa: She is more responsible and practical, as we see when she responds to Ana’s announcement of her engagement by saying, “You can’t marry a man you just met!” She seems more wary of people and seems to see the darker side of the world because of the way her parents treated her.

camilla facce

Advice from the Quills:

Before you start a story, write a short “bio” for your main characters that answers these questions. Taking the time to get to know your characters first will make the writing process easier because you’ll know how they will react in the situations you throw them into.

Of course there are many more aspects to creating realistic characters, but I feel that these 6 things are your essential building blocks. Take the time to get to know your characters and they will become real to you–and your reader.

 What brings characters to life for you as a reader?

Like what you read? Know someone who might enjoy it? Please share it with other writers! Thank you for reading!

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