The Art of Creating Likeable Characters by Lucy Banks
How to Create Likeable Characters
As a certified bookworm, I frequently fall in love with literature. Sometimes, it’s the plot that sets my heart fluttering, but more often than not, it’s the characters. From Frankenstein’s maligned creature to Shakespeare’s endlessly procrastinating Hamlet – these characters aren’t the most perfect people in the world, but they’ve got something about them that we readers adore.
The big question is . . . what is it that makes us love them?
What Makes Them Likeable?
I’m endlessly fascinated by other writers. I spend most evenings curled up with a book, figuring out just how the author in question achieved what they did. Yes, it’s a little sad. And yes, perhaps I do need a social life. Ahem.
Anyway, here’s a few things I’ve learnt over the years (mostly through other wonderful authors) about creating great characters.
Make them human. Think about your favourite book character in the whole world. Chances are, even if they’re a superhero, they’ll still be flawed. But hey, that’s an important thing! It’s these beautiful imperfections that make us relate to them. Even James Bond, the smoothest spy ever to walk the literary planet, has a few weak spots.
Give them a back-story. Book characters, like the rest of us, are sculpted by what happened in the past. Your protagonist should certainly have a solid back-story, as this provides an impetus for their future decisions. Lesser characters don’t necessarily need to be so fleshed out – but you as an author should still know what’s made them the way they are.
Let their natural voice shine through. I love strong character voices. I’m currently reading Angela Carter’s fabulous Nights at the Circus (if you haven’t read it – do!) and her protagonist, a young lady with wings called Fevvers, has the most amazing cockney drawl. A well-written voice echoes in your head as you read it, lifting the characters off the page.
Let them interact with others. Aside from Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, no man (or woman) is an island. Their character is often emphasised by how they react to people around them. For example, in The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, Kester always gets rubbed up the wrong way by the sneery Serena. His overwhelming sense of British propriety gets tested to the limits – demonstrating to the reader just what sort of a chap he is!
Give them quirks. The devil, as they say, is in the details—and this is definitely the case with characters. It’s the little things that matter. The nervous tick. The limp. A particular fondness for wearing smelly old cardigans. Even an unfortunate tendency to pick their nose when they’re anxious. It doesn’t matter what the quirks are, as long as they inform the reader what sort of person they really are.
Test Them Out
When creating characters, I often do a few exercises first, to ‘get to know them’. I might write a short story about something that happened to them in the past, for example. I also like to ask questions, testing how they’d react in certain situations. A bit odd? Yes, perhaps. But it’s an effective way to ensure you know them inside-out, which is vital if you want to create a character your readers will love.