Have you ever thought that a main character was boring because they were either too perfect or can’t do a dang thing right? Would you like to avoid this in your current work?
What you need to think about is the character’s balance between likability, activity, and competency. In this post we will discuss exactly what these are and how to develop them within a character.
I’ve always had the understanding that readers start a book for the story but stay for the characters. If this is true then that makes characters quite important right? Correct. You can have flashy action all you want but the readers won’t feel included unless there is a character forming the bridge between emotion and plot.
To create this bridge, watch this video titled “How To Create A Great Character” by YouTube channel The Closer Look.
So as we can see from the video, the narrator talks about the importance of not “making a great character” but how to “make your character interesting.” The three qualities that makes a character interesting are likability, activity, and competency.
Likability – “how much will the audience like this character?”
Competency – “how good are they at what they do?”
Activity – “how much do they persevere?” or “do they affect the plot or does the plot affect them?”
It is good to have a character excel in one or two of these qualities but all three would be too much since the character would be too perfect. It feels almost shallow with no room for the character to grow and improve. Making the character have a high bar for at least one of these qualities is important so that there is contrast between what he/she/it is capable of and what needs a little work. This makes the character dynamic and interesting to the audience/readers.
To make your writing even more dimensional, there should be characters who all have different levels of bars for these three qualities. By creating characters that excel in areas that your main character lacks in, the plot will run smoother and there will actually be a need for those characters. If the main character can do it all then there would be no need for them and it would get a bit lonely without dialogue. But if the main character can’t do anything for himself/herself/itself then is there really a need for that character as well? You loose the main point of the entire story when the main character can’t keep up!
Sneak peak: for my current series that I am writing, I am starting to heavily assign these qualities to my characters. What I’ve learned about this topic is that yes, my characters should have these qualities fused with their personalities, but I should also explain as to why they function this way. This is where a backstory is extremely important. Why a character isn’t competent at first should be shown through a backstory to add character development.
My main character might seem incompetent at times because of a traumatizing time when she was forced to use her enerchi (energy manifestation element in my story) for horrendous acts so every time she is required to use it, it feels dirty and she subconsciously fights it. Her companions that travel with her are quite competent and are interested in finding ways to help her become more comfortable with using her enerchi. Even though this is a small example, it already creates an innate challenge that the characters have to overcome through teamwork while making an opportunity for them to bond further. This blend of backstory and competence evaluating is what siphons empathy from the readers. They are able to walk inside the character’s shoes and see an explanation for why that character behaves that way.
Questions for fellow Navigators:
Could you think of a piece of writing where a character was either perfect or totally useless? How did that make you feel? Did you feel bored, betrayed, or even angry at the lack of character development?
If you thought of a character in the above question, what would you have done to change her/his/its qualities to improve upon the story?
Which of the three qualities is most important to you? Rank them from 1-3 and explain why you did.
How will this impact your writings in the future?
Do you have any works that could have benefited from this knowledge?
Please leave your reply below and let’s discuss!