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What Makes a Strong Character

Updated on August 6, 2016

Powerful Characters in Famous Literature

Many great books have great characters. Just naming a few there are:

Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment)

Dorian Gray (A Picture of Dorian Gray)

Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)

Stephen Dedalus (Ulysses)

Lyra Belacqua (Northern Lights)

What is a Strong Character?

A strong character is a character that can hold a story. They are interesting enough to engage the reader and make them solely focus on them (maybe even make them forget about the main story in hand). Strong characters are powerful, maybe not in the same way as a superhero but they possess a certain strength; even if it is just the strength to keep you engaged.

Is Your Character Important?

One of the first things a strong character needs is importance. They need to have a binding tie to the main storyline. If your character is not important you are going to have a hard time engaging your readers. I know it sounds simple to make your character the centre of attention but I think it should really be stressed that it is easier to make a character strong if they are important. You can't just pick some nobody and pretend they are important, what have they done to be so important? Why do they deserve so much attention? Are they the cause of the story or just somebody who got whipped up in the action? The more they do the more important they become.

Tips for Making Your Character Easy to Relate to

Making your audience connect with your characters is not the easiest thing in the world but it's not the hardest either. Here are a few tips to help you improve:

Don't make them 'over the top': Don't make them larger than life; keep them down to earth.

The little things: When it comes to character development, the little things really do make a difference. Just something as small as describing how they take their coffee could be enough to engage the reader. It's their small habits that build connections with the audience.

Imperfections: Nobodies perfect, not even your characters. The tiny imperfections they may possess remind the audience that everybody has problems. It's harder to relate to someone who's perfect.

Anger/frustration: Above all other emotions these two really help a reader relate. We all get frustrated and we all get angry and we all do stupid things because of our anger and our frustration.

Can Your Audience Relate to Your Character?

It doesn't matter how important your character is if your audience cannot relate to them. Every element in your story is there to engage the reader, one of the most important elements of your story is your character. To engage your audience you need to allow them to connect with your characters.

When your audience connects with your characters they are engaged. They want to see what happens next to them. They want to see what they do next, they want to know every little detail about them. And it's things like that, that keep them reading.

We All do Stupid things When We're Angry

How to Tell if a Character is not Rounded?

Here are a few sure fire ways to tell if your character is a little underdeveloped:

  • They do not have opinions, they just do what they're told
  • They are only seen when they are needed (e.g. when somebody is in trouble or needs their assistance)
  • They don't really have a life, we don't know a whole lot about them

A Well Rounded Character

A well-rounded character is a one that does not serve a purpose. They are not just included to keep the story going. Their main function is not just to tell you (the audience) or another character something of importance; they are the importance. A well-rounded character has a life outside of the one you have documented. They don't just live within the confines of your story, they do things your story doesn't exactly cover. They are multi-dimensional. This applies to all your characters, not just your main ones. If there are one-dimensional characters or undeveloped characters, it shows weakness in the story.

What did They do Before?

Everybody loves to hear about the childhood of their favourite character, that's why I saved this point till last; it is only effective if your character is already interesting (people don't want to invest time looking at a boring character's childhood). But if they are interesting, this point will do wonders for your stories. Seeing what a character used to be like is a gem to many. Seeing how they grew up can give immense insight into the way they are now; in the present.

Flashbacks are a little controversial, though. Many people love them but many hate them too. Add them in at your own risk. Personally, I love flashbacks, I think they are a great way of letting a story cross into many time frames with great ease, but you should use your own judgement on whether you think they will enhance your story or not.

Do You Like Flashbacks?

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Childhood (flashbacks)

Everybody loves to hear about the childhood of their favorite character. I saved this point till last because it is only effective if your character is already interesting (people don't want to invest time looking at a boring character's childhood). But if they are interesting this point will do wonders for your stories. Seeing what a character used to be like is a gem to many. Seeing how they grew up can give immense insight into the way they are now; in the present.

Flashbacks are a little controversial though. Many people love them but many hate them too. Add them in at your own risk. Personally I love flashbacks, I think they are a great way of letting a story cross into many time frames with great ease, but you should use your own judgement on whether you think it will enhance your story or not.

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    • mathira profile image

      mathira 3 years ago from chennai

      Your tips are very apt, Joel. I too like strong characters as they are very interesting and inspiring.

    • Joel Okimoto profile image
      Author

      Kai Morris 3 years ago from London

      Thank you for your feedback, I agree, they can be very inspiring.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Well done; I tend to prefer character-driven plots myself when I read so it's very important to me that a character have dimension and depth, be well rounded like a regular person, and behave consistently with his own personality. Good work here, looking forward to more of your hubs on writing.

    • slowpokevoyager profile image

      Roger Decker 3 years ago from Braggs, Oklahoma

      I like this. But a little exercise you can use to help with flashbacks is to tell a few tidbits during a scene. Don't give it all at once unless the scene you're writing calls for it.

      For example: Carl walked into the diner and noticed a sign on the wall which read EAT AT YOUR OWN RISK. He smiled, remembering his sister telling him throughout his young years,"eating mom's meatloaf is taking your life into your own hands."

      Later you may explain where he lived, why his sister would say such a thing, and how their mother reacted to it.

      I loved the examples you showed. Great insight.

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