C is for Character | #AtoZChallenge

When you’re reading a story, what grabs you the most- plot or character?

With me, it’s character. I enjoy reading a well-written character, who’s multifaceted and interesting. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I’m not an expert, but I do think I have an idea on how to get your characters moving and grooving in an interesting way. Here are five tips for writing characters who are interesting and realistic:

Joss Whedon quote

Tip 1: Name that tune

What is your characters name? Is there significance to it? (A family name? Has Name a certain meaning? Etc.) What does your character look like? You don’t have to go into every insignificant detail. If you do, it’ll start to feel to your reader like you don’t trust them to make some decisions. Describe parts that are important and that give your character shape. If your character is someone who has a hard lifestyle, talk about those lines on his face, the jagged scar running down her thigh. Those puffy bags under his eyes from his habitual drinking tell a lot about who he is and what he does.

Tip 2: Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?

What are the qualities that your characters exhibit? Are they shy? Quick to anger? Incredibly insecure? Do you have friends who have qualities that make them a bit alike so they’re more likely to clash, but on some issues, they’re really steadfast? Don’t be afraid to mix it up and give your character seemingly opposing traits- the shy librarian who has a wild streak. The angry bartender with a soft side for baby kittens. You get it.

Tip 3: So what’cha, what’cha, what’cha want, what’cha want?

What drives your characters? What pushes them to make moves? What is the thing that they want the most? And what is the thing that they need? The need is going to be what really drives the underlying story. Is it love? To have an actual home? Revenge? To deal with grief? Knowing these elements to your characters will make them richer and more interesting to write and ultimately for your readers to experience.


Tip 4: It’s a family affair…it’s a family affair…

Here’s one thing that shapes us all in the best (and sometimes worse) ways possible: our families. Who is your character’s family? Is there some mommy or daddy issues lurking in the background? Was the family wonderfully supportive and amazing, but had terrible luck that destroyed things? Is your character’s family gone now and he’s all on his own? Was his grandfather abusive? His mother likes a little coffee in her Baileys? Having that family background and learning her roots will show you more about how she will react in the future to the obstacles (and opportunities) you plop in her path.

Tip 5: My flaws are the only thing left that’s pure

Do not write characters who are perfect. Give them moments where they stumble, crumble, and break down. The most interesting traits of characters are how they react when things don’t go their way. Yes, it can be hard to make your character go through the bad, but in order to get to the good, there must be some bad. It’ll increase the level of tension, make the conflict more intense, and just generally makes for better writing.


Did you guess the lyrics? Do you have a favorite character from books or movies? Let me know in the comments! Also, if you like talking about writing, join us at the #writestuff Twitter chat every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EDT. Find me on there: @penpaperpad.


Check out my posts for Letters A and Letters B. Come back tomorrow for D!

letter C

Aloha y’all! 




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21 Responses to C is for Character | #AtoZChallenge

  1. These are excellent tips. It’s great to have one visual trait or oddity for people to remember. “The girl with the radish earrings.” “The boy who yanks at his eyebrow whenever he talks to a teacher.” Great work with your post.

    And thanks for getting Beastie Boys stuck in my head. 😉

  2. I love the lyrics, Tamara! and I love that we’re thinking about the same thing for our C day. Characters are important (You can tell I prefer character-dominant stories, even when they are plot-driven and yep, it’s a thing.) — one of the most important.

    Glad to meet you! Hope you’ll come visit more often.

  3. Good tips. All of this is things you do need to consider for your character. All of it is what I think about with my character. This month I am featuring one of the steps I do for character creation… sort of. I try to figure out when my characters were born. I find it very empowering to know their exact day of birth.

    My AtoZ features articles that will be featured in my book, Character Astrology Profiles, and the book will show how to use Astrology to not only figure out when your character was born, but how to add complexity to them.

  4. Clever like the way you used the “Name that tune” theme for your points.
    Very true character development is alot of work and needs to be fine tuned.
    Nice to meet you, Tamara.

    @Moondustwriter A Piece of Uganda

  5. Love the Joss Wheden quote. Your post has some very true words about characters and what influence them.

  6. Excellent tips. When a character doesn’t tell me their name, I usually try to find one that has some meaning that connects to who they are.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  7. Great tips. Here from the A-Z and enjoyed reading – particularly think the advice re flaws is important, 100% paragons or devils are so wooden!


  8. Great post! Using the song lyrics to identify important aspects of creating characters is a fun way to get the points across. Creating vivid, realistic characters is one of the hardest, yet most important, things about writing.

  9. Indispensible, Tamara, thank you!
    Great blog, good luck with the challenge!

  10. Hey, Tamara,

    I didn’t know you were participating in the A-to-Z! Glad I found you. 🙂

    For your post, I think the family part stopped me.
    I didn’t realize how much time I actually spent thinking about a character’s family, even if they don’t actually make an appearance in the story. I just like sketching family drama. (I blame the telenovelas and Kdramas).

  11. A great summary of what usually makes a good character. A really well-built character won’t allow stupid plots because their being will reject it. It makes me think of a few of my characters and how invested I am in them. Anyway, just thought I would check in from the challenge. This is great and I will probably be checking on what you have to say the rest of the month as well.

  12. Fantastic post. Yes, I absolutely agree that characters are most important. A good character drives the plot rather than the other way around.

    • Tamara Woods

      Indeed. If I read a story that’s all plot heavy, but no real character building, I have a hard time connecting to the story.

  13. zainab

    Lovely post!

  14. I like my characters slowly revealed: not just a paragraph of telling me who they are and what they look like. I want to get to know them as I would a person I’ve just met – through the experience of seeing them interact with others – and with me. Those 5 tips are good ones. Often new writers seem to try to get everything in all at once, telling instead of showing. Hopefully new writers will be able to incorporate situations that show their characters’ true “characters”!

    Mainely Write

    • Tamara Woods

      I agree those small reveals makes the character so much more interesting. It’s true, you often don’t meet someone and he immediately spills all of his secrets (or if that person does, it’s really off-putting).

  15. This is useful info. Thanks

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