How to Write Characters Readers Will Root For

Here’s a little secret. Readers don’t like reading about perfect heroes who have all their stuff together. Perfect heroes without any flaws or problems whatsoever are bo-o-oring. Not to mention, completely unrealistic. (I, for one, have yet to meet a human being whose life is entirely flawless.) . So if you want to create a hero for your novel who is believable, relatable, and interesting, they can’t be perfect. They must have at least one major problem–or better yet, lots of them!

You’ll find a flawed hero–a hero with problems–in every great novel ever told.

Take Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, for example. She’s not exactly living in the lap of luxury out in District 12, is she? She’s poor, she’s hungry, she’s fatherless, her mother has completely checked out. And then, boom! Her little sister gets chosen for the reaping. Katniss’s circumstances on the outside have also made her hardened, distrustful, and cynical on the inside. This girl’s got problems to spare. 

Or what about Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck? He’s just gotten out of jail (for killing a man!), and he comes home to find his entire family has up and left because of no money, no work, and no food. He’s definitely not winning “Farmer of the Year” anytime soon.

And let’s not forget about Becky Bloomwood, in Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, who, as the title implies, cannot stop shopping. Which is why she’s crippled by secret credit card debt that’s starting to wreak havoc on her entire life.

And that brings us to a great tip for writing flawed heroes: Don’t let the problem stay contained to just one area of your hero’s life. Let the problem(s) manifest and spread and infect! Your hero’s problem(s) should be affecting their entire world: their work, their home life, and their relationships.

When someone starts reading your novel, they should be thinking something along the lines of, Whoa, what a mess this person’s life is!

That’s how you know you’ve done your job.

I realize this seems like a horrible thing to do to your hero–riddle their life with all sorts of difficulties right from the get-go–but it’s also an essential thing to do to your hero. Because if your hero’s life isn’t flawed, what’s the point of the novel? Why do we care? We turn to story to watch characters fix their problems, better their lives, improve upon their flaws. Great novels take deeply imperfect characters and make them a little less imperfect.

So what kind of problem(s) is your character facing? That’s the first question you must answer as you begin to create your story-worthy hero.

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