How to Not Suck At Writing Characters

“Like, sheesh, Ghalta. Can’t you just find a feature image that has at least something to do with the topic at hand?” Said the reader. “I can’t help but feel that you’re trying to entrap me in a lengthy, boring article with a cool painting of a fantasy landscape. We want real, entertaining content.”

Well, joke’s on you, ’cause you read through my introductory paragraph! I am now casting a magical spell on you that will compel you to read the rest of this article. Do not resist. If you do, I will increase the spell’s intensity and completely sear your will to the bottom of your mom’s kitchen tabletop, leaving you a pathetic, shriveled wreck.

Anyway, all that aside, your number one concern as a writer should be to not suck. This provides a basis, a state to start from. Soon you’ll be on your road to write truly great novels, but you have to not suck first. And I’m tellin’ ya now: not sucking is actually easier than you think.

A lot of people are consumed with writing the best character ever. For a writer getting off the ground, this is a futile effort. To get a feel for what a great character would be, you first need a good character. You need to create characters that people can get behind before you write your first batch of really compelling characters.

By doing this, I’ll go through the bases that writers of poor characters often miss when it comes to making characters, pulling examples from popular culture. You’d be surprised on how many bad characters are created in popular media, even in shows that we deem to be “good”. Not Sucking is an art lost to the past…one that you must cultivate within yourself.

The number one thing that people miss nowadays is giving characters skills that they can’t logically have/haven’t learned. Just having one character with no specific expertise but being “good” at a lot of things in particular is bad, but if you couple that with a layman’s background you’re getting a recipe for disaster. Remember, be realistic: whether you’re writing a sci-fi, a fantasy, a CRF, or a soap opera, don’t give abilities to characters that they can’t logically have.

Instead, give characters a certain proficiency for something. Perhaps you’re writing a zombie apocalypse novel, and the survivors are going to need skills to stave off zombies, hunger, and bad people. Instead of just making your characters pros at foraging and fighting, give them reasons for being able to: Rosie used to take boxing lessons from her father, John swung an axe and split the wood when he was fifteen, Meg’s mom taught her how to find edible plants and mushrooms.

Without these seemingly unimportant details, your characters quickly lapse into boredom. Whatever skills your characters have, give reasons as to why and how they have them. The writer’s cheat sheet tip is to just write a certain skill to each character and then explain why they’re good at it.

The second is over-spunking your character. You probably like a spunky, witty, roguish character, so you might want to replicate one for your story. But a lot of amateur writers attempt to do this and fail, instead creating (usually) the fussy feminist “strong female” trope. This isn’t a character, it’s a political figure.

And while you may not have meant to create a Karen, you might be under the impression that this is acceptable. Imma tell ya right now: it’s not. And what’s more: it’s lazy, annoying, and a sign of amateur writing. Having a character (male or female, mind you) that fussily snips and snidely remarks about other characters most of the time for the sake of “wittiness” does nothing for the story.

So don’t go overboard with your spunk. Have a character who is witty, but doesn’t use it to deride people (unless the rare occasion arises that said character is annoyed, and then it’s no holds barred). Pushing that too far will result in something resembling a progressive film archetype.

Don’t be afraid to rely on old methods of inspiring compassion for your characters. Even though the old trope “his wife died” is invaluable when making rough characters. A tragic past, involving a family member or close friend that died or left the character in question, is an easy cheat sheet solution to making characters that we can care about.

Finally, get your character a dang character arc. Don’t bother with iconic characters; at least, not yet. Most characters grow in some way, signaling their transformation into a better character than they were before for reasons encountered along the course of the story. This is one of the things avoided like the plague for modern writers, for reasons currently unknown to me. Making a character arc is simple: write a few flaws into a character, and then use the conflict to force the character to overcome their flaws or perish, and have them conquer their flaws in the end.

Do these things in some way, and I promise your characters won’t suck.

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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