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How to write relatable characters

So you want to write a relatable character, someone your reader will love and root for. And maybe you’ve tried before, but your characters felt arrogant or forced. And you might think your character is going to be perceived as awesome, cool or badass, but as it turns out - your readers are annoyed by them.


Why is that?


You have a desire to make a super-cool, relatable and impressive character. But you might be looking at the wrong ingredients to throw into the mix.


At the end of the day, it isn’t your character’s outward appearance or their sass (despite what you may think!) that’s going to make them relatable.


Sure, sass helps.


I’ll be the first to admit I love to chuckle at characters who tell it how it is. But the sass must be there for a reason, it must come from somewhere, and most importantly? You can’t rely on only wit to hold your character up.

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There are many things to consider when writing a character you wish your audience would connect with. And all these things constitute a well-rounded personality.


Let’s make a list of the ingredients.


A scoop of Human Traits & Quirks


This is the most basic of ingredients to making likeable characters. But one thing you should keep in mind is - this ingredient will not work on its own.


Remember that it is only part of what makes your character stand out.


So give your character some unique qualities.


Perhaps your character has an affinity for animals, maybe they’re a raging vegetarian and they stand by animal rights as if it’s their only reason for being put on this earth. Maybe they’re a workaholic, and people around them struggle to convince them into taking a break.


These passions or ways of life are easily relatable, and while not every reader might share that exact passion or quality - they’ll have a version of their own, and they will understand.


Beyond these traits, you might think of little quirks to go with them - something that makes your character more human.


Think about El Profesor and his tick to push glasses up his nose when he’s nervous.

El Profesor from Money Heist (2017)


3 ounces of Weaknesses & Vulnerability


Now we’re getting a bit deeper into the batter.


Every person has a weakness. Or two. And so should your character.


Think about the thing that is most important to them, it can be their work, their belief, or even a person. Then find a way to tie this into a weakness.


Most often - the thing that matters most to them is their weakness.

Lexa from The 100 (2014)


A dash of Virtues & Flaws


What makes a well-rounded character if not a perfect balance of virtues and flaws?


It’s an easy thing - to fall into the trap of making your character unbalanced in their good and bad sides. And if you lean the scale too far either way, it could be detrimental to how your character is perceived.


Often, writers fall under the impression that their audience loves baddies. Deeply flawed characters of witty humor. Sound familiar?


The problem with this is that they fail to give them enough of the good qualities to counterbalance all the bad. And what do they end up with? A character with some serious issues and no remorse, who justifies their actions in the way of sarcasm and jokes.


That doesn’t sound like a person anyone would want to hang around.


The easiest way to fix this?


Balance it out by giving them more virtues. It gives them depth, and it gives your character a reason to like them, despite their flaws and not because of them.


A spoonful of Failures & Consequences


It might be a scary thought - to hurt your character.


But to really hurt them.


And then let them feel it.


Let them go through such a massive setback, an enormous failure which they can only blame themselves for. And they’re going to have to carry this on their shoulders for the rest of their lives.

This is something that’s going to live with them, and change them. And if you’re brave enough to do this, your readers will thank you for it.

Peter Parker in Spider-man: No Way Home (2021)


A sprinkle of Fears & Challenges


Now this is something we can all relate to.


Everyone is scared of something. That can be a trivial material fear like spiders.

Or it can be something deeper. A fear of loneliness, a fear of betrayal, a fear of settling down.


Whatever the fear your character might have - use it well. Use it for your story, and make it into a crucial challenge which your character is going to have to face.


And if your readers are already aware of this particular fear, once the character finally faces it - your reader isn’t going to be able to help but to root for them.


Why?


Because we all have fears, and we all have to learn to face the challenges that come with them. It’s a human thing, and it’s one you can use to leverage the way your readers will feel about your characters, without a shadow of a doubt.

 

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