Creating Compelling Characters

Plot is key, but not at the expense of character. We’ll go anywhere with a full character but question every move with a thin one.’

Jonny Geller, CEO of literary agency Curtis Brown

Creating unique and memorable characters is a must for every fiction writer. It’s what makes our stories interesting and resonate with the reader.

And for series writers, the strength of our characters is what makes the reader want to come back for more. Plot alone isn’t enough.

So how do you do it?

Come up with a good backstory? Through in a few quirks and a great car?


To create a your readers will fall in love with you need to dig deeper:

1. Really know your character

I’m not just talking about his/her favourite colour or when his/her birthday is. You need to know your character as well as you know yourself.

To quote one of my favourite literary charactersAtticus from To Kill a Mockingbird– you need to:

Climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it

2. Use plot to define your character

Show how your character reacts to a difficult situation. Let your readers see him/her in action.

How someone deals with a problem tells us a lot about them AND it lets you ‘show not tell’ the reader what your character’s made of.

3. Create contradictions

Create interest through contradictions. A vegetarian who wears leather. A Buddhist serial killer. these are extreme examples, but you take the point.

In real life no-one is straight down the middle. Your characters shouldn’t be either.

4. Give your character flaws

It’s tempting to try and create ‘nice’ characters because we want our readers to like them. But actually characters with flaws are much more interesting, especially when those flaws get them into trouble.

Think Thomas Hardy here. His best loved characters were deeply flawed and those flaws ultimately lead to their downfall.