Craft compelling main characters and your readers will stick with them, journey across worlds and through time with them, root for them, laugh or cry with them, and love them or love to hate them. Fail to craft compelling main characters, and . . . well, your readers won’t.

So how can you breathe life into your main characters, making them leap off the page with words alone? Here are five things to think about.Bring your characters to life with words alone.

  1. Human beings are multifaceted individuals, and your main characters should be as well. People aren’t all this or all that, capable of being defined by a handful of traits or an aspect of their lives. People are unique, with characteristics and foibles that set them apart from everyone else. An individual may even have a trait that seems to contradict his or her other traits. If you want your main characters to take on lives of their own, then they need to be just as complex and rounded out.
  2. Your main characters should each have something that they really want and work toward obtaining, whether it’s large or small, concrete or abstract. Get to know your characters—who they are, what they desire, and what their motivations are—and storylines may spring to mind from this knowledge.
  3. Make your characters’ actions, dialogue, thoughts, etc., believable and consistent. But that doesn’t mean your characters must be predictable and boring, completely lacking any ability to surprise readers. Just hint at the possibility that one of your characters may do something out of character and show how he or she is capable of it in the pages leading up to the surprise. You don’t want your readers left thinking, “No way would XXX do that!”
  4. If you want your main characters to be captivating, make sure they are dynamic and give readers the sense that they are capable of change and growth. Whether they do change, to what extent, and whether it’s a good or bad thing depend on your story. But as characters progress through a story, they usually undergo some degree of transformation.
  5. “Show,” don’t “tell.” When you carefully craft a passage, showing lets you reveal more information about your characters. It grabs readers, invests them in your story, and invites them to interact with it. And it forces you to reveal your characters in pieces, slowly, like real people become acquainted with one another. By carefully selecting characters’ actions, speech, thoughts, and appearances, you can create individuals who take on lives of their own.Make sure your main characters are worthy of the spotlight.

Now, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place in your story for characters who fade into the background. Your story needs a supporting cast. Just make sure that the characters you place in starring roles are worthy of those roles and are complex enough to see them through.

How do you get to know your characters? Please leave a comment!