Here are my experiences and how I write characters I love as well as the mistakes I’ve made. I hope this helps in some way and Happy Valentines Day!
I’ve written many different stories with many different narrators and I know a good narrator will keep me writing. The very first book I tried to write featured a main character who had no faults. I originally thought that this would make the character so much better but as I tried to write it, I started hating the character more and more. It seemed impossible for me to relate to the character and made all the tension dissipate before there was really any action.
So I abandoned that project and started on another one. This time I was sure to give my character actual human characteristics and flaws. In fact, my main character was enemy number one when it came to the world she lived in but was the hero as far as the book went. This book actually got completed but I kept reworking it. 12 drafts later I was making the character more empathetic and less cold towards everyone. So I learned that even if a character is evil they still have to be likable.
Not too much later I started writing a character who had lost their memory. This is when I first noticed that half of a character was just what motivated him. It didn’t even need to be on the page as long as I knew what past thing the character had that was affecting the way he reacted now. That is to say, my character was passive and dull because there was nothing motivating his actions. I ended up not writing the most interesting parts of the story because I couldn’t imagine why the character was doing what was supposed to happen.
Not long after that, I finally started writing characters who the readers enjoyed and who helped push the plot forward. The secret to these characters was giving them emotion and reason. They were no longer a puppet with one general concept making them up but were dynamic and relatable. Sometimes these characters would change to plot just because they started moving on their own.
From then on I started building my characters from the emotion up. I’d begun a book by thinking of a situation that would cause a highly emotional response and then create the two characters who would react in the most interesting way in response to said stimuli. Before even writing the story I’d come up with past events, fears, things they hated. By fleshing them out in every aspect I could, I could understand them better and relate to them more.
Another thing I found key was to make characters have strong beliefs. If a character wasn’t either super outgoing or super shy then they were boring. But if I worked with a shy character and put them in situations where they had to be outgoing, that was interesting. I listened to what others said about why characters were good or bad and I found some interesting distinctions. Characters who were emotionally not ready to take on the climax often came across as overly dramatic and a scaredy cat. Their counterparts who were held back by past memories were perceived as strong and compelling.
The thing that makes a character seem the most alive to me then, is responding to the plot in consistent ways that are unique to the character. If they respond differently every time then I can’t relate to or understand the character. If they respond the same way as everyone else the fall flat and become boring, unoriginal, and paper thin. It is their responses that keep the plot engaging and moving forward.