Every story needs them.
A book can have the most plot-driven story line in existence, but if the readers can’t relate to the characters, they’re going to put the book down without finishing it.
When we, as readers, love a character, it keeps us glued to the story, flipping the pages, not noticing one chapter seamlessly moving into the next.
We want to know what happens to “our” characters. Suddenly they’re friends and we’re concerned about them.
Example of Strong Characters: The Hunger Games
And I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to know, would Katniss choose the fiery and proud, yet infinitely caring Gale? (Talk about a strong character!)
Or the tender and sacrificial Peeta? (Every bit as strong of a character.)
And of course, Katniss herself was a reason to keep reading the book, (although more than once in the third book I wanted to slap her upside the head).
But that is what makes a good character in a story.
A living character.
One that breathes and takes you through the book.
Challenges in Writing a Strong Character
So now let’s jump from the perspective of reader to writer.
I admit, sometimes it is a challenge to develop strong characters.
Not only that, but sometimes as writers, we have issues with our characters.
Seriously, they act like children sometimes. And no, I don’t mean, “Mommy, can I have a drink of water?” at ten pm.
My characters sometimes just don’t listen. It’s like they take on a mind of their own, with a (sometimes rather strong) will of their own.
Have you ever faced this in your writing?
You have worked out an awesome scene in your mind.
Seriously, if anyone could see into your brain at such a “eureka” moment, they would say just that:
So you sit down at the next available moment you have to type it up …
Which is sometimes not until a week or two later, but you haven’t forgotten that scene, because it’s awesome.
You begin to flesh it out with nouns and verbs and the occasional adjective and prepositional phrase thrown in there.
But before long, your strong characters begin to alter the dialogue.
- A character shouts when she was supposed to have started crying.
- A character storms out of the room when he was supposed to have gotten into a conversation with yet another character.
- This new character jumps into the story.
- Oh, and the villain wants to be a well-rounded and strong character with a really good back story.
Suddenly, you’ve reached the end of the chapter you are writing and it has not led to what you had in mind for the next chapter.
Your strong-willed characters took it somewhere completely different!
Yes, you still have the overall end of the book in your mind. That is always there. It would be foolish to start writing something without a clear idea of how it would end.
But in the middle, these infuriating characters of sometimes totally do their own thing.
You might even have to admit that sometimes the unexpected twists they introduce are cool.
Maybe even awesome … maybe.
But can’t they just listen?
Can’t they just take the path that you’ve laid out so nicely for them?
Wait … Are We Strong-Willed Characters in a Story?
When I stop and think about what I’m saying.
- An author who has the perfect ending in mind.
- Strong characters in an epic story.
- And strong-willed characters that seem totally bent on doing their own thing.
My brain switches to existential mode for a moment …
And then I think how thankful I am that God doesn’t press “control + alt + delete” on His manuscript.
Ten Tips on Writing Strong Characters
Having a hard time writing those characters?
In writing characters into a story, it could help to take some clues from life.
Here are a few tips on writing strong characters (and maybe even on living):
- Let your character lose their temper from time to time.
- It’s okay if they make mistakes or even lose their way.
- Sometimes your character will find help in unexpected places, which will strengthen your story’s setting.
- Or from unexpected people … guides and mentors and friends; welcome them to the party.
- If a new character shows up and you’re not sure where they’ll fit in, go ahead and write their story anyway. You’ll figure out where they belong.
- Sometimes the sun will set with no end to your favorite character’s sorrow.
- When this happens, always write a sunrise into your story … or at least the hope of one.
- Even strong characters can be written better with a sense of humor.
- Sometimes you need to write your way into a mess before your characters can work their way out of it.
- Big messes usually mean raised stakes, which naturally make a better story … and of course, stronger characters.
It will all work out alright.
The story on the screen (or paper) in front of you …
And even more, the story that is living and breathing all around you.
It’s making you into a stronger character.
When you get to the end, I hope you’ll be able to say, “That was awesome.”
And more, to realize it was really only the end of the first chapter.