How To Improve Your Characters

When I was younger and wrote stories, my character would have the most random names ever. There was a girl named Aqua who found a hidden treasure, or there was an evil guy named Don-joy Soy. I was trying to steer away from the average Jane and be original, but sometimes it can get out of hand.

So, how do you make a character be remembered throughout your novel? How can you make the reader root for the character at the tense moments, and weep for the character at the sad moments? It all boils down to some helpful tips that’ll improve your characters.

Step 1: The Name

Every character needs a name. Whether it’s the mean twins from down the street, Chester and Lester; or it’s the kind old lady who collects darning spools nicknamed Threadisy. You need a name that suits them from the neckline to the hems of the bottom of the pants.

Say your book is about a plumber named Timothy and his sidekick farmer named Ian. Now, you got the main character’s name down pat, but Ian sounds like a rich sleazy banker, not the bumpkin farmer. Try something like Zebidiah. How does that sound? A middle-aged guy, a little on the plump side, straw hats and plaid shirts, honest and good-doing, there is the stereotypical farmer.

But what if your story only has fanciful names like Bedford, Chiquita, Gilda, and Vester. I pity all the kids who are named that. When you got those kinds of names, it’s best to throw in the average Mary or Ben. Just so the readers aren’t groaning in frustration because they can’t pronounce the protagonist’s name: Aoife. That is a real name by the way.

Step 2: Looks

Another great way is to describe the character. Give the reader a visual.

Don’t tell the readers what Gideon looks like at page 268 when the book is 300 pages long, there might be a wee problem. You might think he’s a handsome tall lad with fair blonde hair and then find out he’s a short, humpbacked guy with green hair at the end. Talk about crushing someone’s dreams.

Another way to hook the readers is using that characteristic moment. And it’s helpful to hint at the way they look. Even mentioning a green hair sticking out off his Nike hoodie can give the reader an idea. But make sure you follow up on the description.

But a problem I had was that I overdid some people and not so much on others. Looking back on my first and second drafts it was pure cringe pouring over me. In the span of 2 chapters, there were about 4 or 5 parts of me talking about what Erin looked like. And she didn’t even change a bit throughout that. XD

And now that I’ think about it, I haven’t told the readers what Airi or Hotisi or Motishu looks like. For all they know, Hotisi is some 90-year-old man with superhuman abilities. I see some spots where I should improve.

Also following what I said before, you don’t need a whole collection of people who look different and now one actually looks like a normal person you’d meet at the supermarket. Give the readers someone that has brown hair and blue eyes. I mean, Erin has black hair. Airi, Ti-su, and Hotisi have dark brown hair. And Lotus is going to have some kind of colourful hair. Here’s the board I made for her: Lotus

Step 3, Part 1: The character’s character.

As confusing as it sounds, it really isn’t. What is your character like? Is he a grumpy old elf that makes little mushroom houses? Is she a kind-hearted mom who works 2 jobs, has a stack of bills to pay, a tiny apartment, and 2 troubled kids? Think of the name and then the character traits they possess.

But if his name is Grumpy and he loved to tap dance and Luck Charm cereal, you might need to change the name to Greg. It takes time to name some characters, but other names just fit on the first run.

But that isn’t always true. Lotus is a girl who speaks her mind without a thought of hurting someone with her thought. She’s very direct with her words and knows how to deliver a good comeback that leaves a sting. The problem is, her parents named her when she was a five-year-old and then she was a sweet innocent girl. Now she’s rebellious and…. well, I won’t spoil it all.

So just keep their peace in mind when picking the name.

Also, make sure to change their emotions depending on the situation around them. If they are at their grandma’s funeral, they aren’t going to be bouncing off the walls and singing Kumbaya. Unless it’s the killer.

I found myself writing the same emotions over and over. She was determined to do it. And when Erin is determined and all, she still has to get discouraged. Emotions and character traits go hand in hand. If Erin is determined to make it when things get hard, she must be pretty positive and all. But no, I made Erin discouraged and sad, yet she was determined to make it over the wall. See, that makes no sense at all.

Step 3, Part 2: The actions also show their character.

Actions are good ways to show the reader that Bill is happy without saying that he is happy. It’s called showing, not telling. Instead of writing: Bill was happy that he got the new robot. Write this: As Bill raced up the stairs to his room, he shook the new robot box in his hands. His smile reached the tips of his ears and he whistled a playful tune. See how I’m not saying that he’s happy, I’m showing it through the actions.

As Bill raced up the stairs  {He’s eager} to his room, he shook {Who hasn’t shaken a new toy’s box when they were younger because they were excited?} the new robot box in his hands. His smile reached the tips of his ears {Smiling, a known sign of happiness} and he whistled a playful tune. {Whistling is also a happy thing. No one whistles when they’re sad}

Step 4: Know anything and everything about them.

This means knowing their age, favourite food, and whether they had a pet pig in their childhood.

I have 2 notebooks dedicated to character interviews. I answer the 50+ questions from K.M. Wieland and they are so helpful. In order to know your character, you can’t have the basic fluff like age and name. You need to know prized possessions, who depends on her, and her past.

Examples of Good Character

This is according to me, but let’s see what makes a good character and why.

– Kiki Strike from Inside the Shadow City: Some of you guys may remember her or the book from 2 previous posts, My Fictional Character one and my Top 10 Books. Not only is she fearless, she can escape anyone and doesn’t let fear daunt her. She is royalty, yet still keeps that secret. She is loyal and trustworthy until it can endanger her. She has witty comebacks and knows how to get what she wants. She has integrity and strong morals. Wouldn’t you want someone like her to be your friend? I’ll remember her white hair, black clothes, and icy blue eyes that taunt you.

Rafe Kachtadorian from The Worst Years of My Life: He’s a rule-breaker, stands up for what he believes, and still looks fresh in the morning even if he didn’t get any sleep. I didn’t look too great after 2 hours of sleep, so I’m in awe over how he does it. He has jokes, drawings and an awesome friend. Loyal and determined, he may be scared but doesn’t show it.

Jamie MacCrae from Shades of Doon: Jamie is not only a handsome Scottish prince with the cutest accent, he is loyal and will go to the ends of the earth for Veronica. He sacrificed himself for her, only to end up fighting for her again. He is determined to find the truth, and he has a very clear view of right and wrong. He has strong morals and is honest. Instead of being the boring prince that rides around on a horse, he heads to the village and spends time with his people.

And that is all I can offer you… for now

And just when you thought this post was gonna be over…

I’m rewriting In a Flash. That’s right, I’m scrapping the entire book and starting over.

Let me explain: So, when I was noting my pages, I just kept finding more and more problems and plot holes. I would blow past the important parts and draw out the little unimportant stuff. I was just butchering my novel more and more with whatever I tried. So we’re starting over with a clean new slate and project.

I’m combining the 3 books into 1. Now you might be scratching your head or shaking it in dismay wondering why. As I told you before, the plot wasn’t working well for me and I just didn’t have enough to go off of. But when I pool the 3 plots together, I actually get something that might work. Unfortunately, that means I’m redoing all the Scene Structure and Character Arcs. Thankfully, I have a book from K.M. Wieland that I have to help me.


4 thoughts on “How To Improve Your Characters

  1. Good advice! And good luck with rewriting your book. I’m revising my book right now and I’ve had to rewrite so many parts of it because it’s just so cringey and unrealistic and honestly doesn’t make any sense. 😂😂


  2. Pingback: The Characters of Chase – Carlye's Camera

  3. Pingback: Characters 2.0 – Carlye's Camera

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