How to Create Instantly Likeable Characters

One of the best writing guides I’ve read and studied from lately is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass. It has some incredible insights on not just how to craft the emotional landscape of your work of fiction, but also a handful of other insights on how to get in touch with your own emotional world to better inform the characters you create. After all, the characters we create in one shape or form are extensions of ourselves all of which who yearn to be understood and expressed with the respect they deserve.

Crafting characters, as you know, is one of my favourite aspects of writing because without people there are no stories. It is through the characters that we get to relate to in navigating the human experience, and that’s why it’s important to make them as true to life as possible, no matter what the setting is or whatever other lifeform they take that isn’t exactly human.

For many years I’ve had pre-conceptions of what makes relatable and likeable characters, and unfortunately a lot of those pre-conceptions were at a very shallow, if not obvious, layer of the human spirit. Make your characters flawed like real people. Take traits from people you know and blend them together. Oh and let’s not forget; give them goals, motivation, and conflict like every other human being has.

And while these are all important aspects of what create multi-dimensional characters, I am here to introduce something that I’ve missed over the years!


Virtue as the Cornerstone of Love

We live in a world where gritty anti-heroes are starting to take centre stage, villains are becoming more sympathizable, and we have overall entered into an era in which there’s a strange embracing of the darkness. And yes of course this all important to our evolution in not only our tastes in fiction, but also our human progression, but one thing that hasn’t had much spotlight on lately is virtue.

An act of kindness goes a long way.

They seem insignificant in the moment, but a bunch of tiny acts of kindness add up.

And in the end, it all makes for a better world to live in if we could all just give each other a helping in whatever way we can.

Whenever we see someone or hear about someone doing a good thing for someone else, it makes us feel good by extension. That’s because we’re social empathetic creatures. We end up feeling the good nature of the giver who gave a helping hand to someone who needed it and we feel the gratitude of the person in need. Throughout our lives we fluxuate between being people who are capable of giving to the less fortunate, and being in unfortunate situations ourselves in need of the generousity of others.

Whether it’s from a stranger or a close loved one, we can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria from an act of kindness we either give to or receive from others. This can range from simple things like dropping a few coins in the shaking can of a homeless person on the street to something more personal and expansive like lending an empathic ear to a friend who has a problem to deal with. Nothing feels better than a win-win situation where we don’t have to lose something of value, whether it was a long awaited desire or a piece of our conscience.

Whatever way you choose to create your characters, it’s imperative that you give them an act of virtue that makes your reader develop a natural admiration for them. Even if you choose to create an anti-hero character who is resistant to their responsibility of greatness, we want to see at least a glimpse of goodness in them because it’s the potential that we want to root for so it can come into fruition later on in the story.

Saving a Cat Moment

In Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald writes about how a simple saving a cat moment can make a protagonist instantly likeable, especially if you include it early on in the story. This gets us to admire the goodness in thecharacter and in turn remind us of the goodness in ourselves–and to take it even further it allows us to see the potential in ourselves to become even better human beings.

So what does a Saving a Cat Moment look like?

It can literally be saving a cat that’s stuck in a tall tree.

Or it can be something more subtle or even more grand than that!

Here are some rapid fire examples from my own stories and other stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. None of them will be ultra specific as to boil down the core principles of the acts themselves.

How to Save a Cat in Several Ways

  • Stepping in when someone is being bullied
  • Mentoring an eager apprentice in a specific skill or vocational path
  • Comforting someone in grief
  • Equipping someone with an important life lesson
  • Providing someone with a sense of purpose
  • Volunteering at an old folks’ home or a homeless shelter
  • Helping the disabled get around town
  • Saving a suicide victim moments before they execute their plan
  • Saving a child from an abusive home situation
  • A parent bonding deeply with their child
  • A spouse bonding deeply with their partner
  • Admitting to fault and asking for forgiveness

The list can go on forever. There’re definitely an infinite amount of other examples I could have put and some that you are starting to think of right now, in which case feel free to share in the comments below!

The point is that whatever good deed your characters perform, they need to come from an earnest and authentic place, even if they have resistance toward it at the beginning. It might be a hard sell if the character performs the deed for admiration and ego gratification as opposed from the goodness of their heart. But you can even make it so that it can start off as an ego boost that eventually touches the character in a deep and moving way where it inspires them to seek even more virtue.

So there you have it, one of the best ways to make instantly likeable characters. It may be obvious to others, but this fell under my radar for a very long time having been so obsessed with the more technical aspect of writing over the years. Sometimes we all need to get back to the basics and remember what we all (hopefully) learned in kindergarten: be kind and share your toys with other kids.

Now I’d like to hear from you, the reader!

What are some other good deeds can we add to the list? What good deeds have you writte your characters to perform in your stories? What acts of kindness from fiction and reality have inspired you?

And as always, if you have any feedback on my writing tips feel free to comment down below. Did I miss something? Should I elaborate more or less? Even feel free to tell me if it was completely useless information, in which you are welcome to give me your two cents on how I can improve Your Write to Live!

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The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post: Putting it into Practice

I am very glad that everyone has enjoyed the recent series I’ve written on The Four Pillars of Fiction, so much so that I’ve broken records in terms of daily viewership and followers gained per post.

So thank you very much for the views and follows!

If you’ve found these posts helpful and think others can benefit, feel more than free to share it around, I would be greatly honoured!

To top off this delicious cake of blog posts, we’re gonna smear on some icing in the form of examples straight from my own novel It Starts: at Home.

Building It Starts: at Home With the Four Pillar Structure

In the following graph, I have outlined the story’s Plot, Location, Objective, and to prevent spoilers, I’ll allow the chracter graph to illustrate the Tenacity.

I’ll keep everything after the rising action the same just so you get an idea of how those questions become important in relation to what I have introduced in my PLOT.

It Starts: at Home Spoiler Free PLOT Graph

It Starts at Home Plot Graph Spoiler Free

Characters With Similar Differences

The main characters of my story seem like complete opposites at first glance, but they share the same kind of vulnerabilities…that take on different forms from each other.

Sorry if that sounds confusing, but basically the plot revolves around how parenting effects young adults, how they end up treating each other at school due to their upbringing, and ultimately in the form of issues surrounding self esteem and popularity.

The way these characters compliment each other and clash against each other looks a little something like this:

Johanna and Britney's Similar Differences

The Settings Surrounding the Homes

As I’ve said earlier in this series, my favourite setting is comtemporary so that I can focus much more on the character development and interpersonal relationships. All of which is possible in a much more advanced setting than mine, but here’s a rough sketch of what this basic world looks like.

It Starts at Home Settings

Thus Truly Concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction Series

Thank you very much again for your time, and as always I hope you’ve enjoyed, and gained value, from The Four Pillars of Fiction series.

Let me know if the points I’ve made in the series were much better having been substantiated by my own story’s examples, if you preferred the abstract one from the characters post, or the direct Inception example for settings.

I wanted to mix it up each post as I believe each method served the purpose it needed to for each pillar.

For those of you who are wondering how I made all of these graphs, I have been using Scapple, a top notch mind mapping program you can download at http://www.literatureandlatte.com

For dialogue examples from It Starts: at Home, click here for a full scene.

Til next time, keep on writing!

The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 4: Dialogue

So you got your plot, your characters, and the setting?

All that’s left to do is make these people talk, and following in the principle provided in this blog series, what they think and say needs to serve a purpose.

RM_05.15_ff_riskdialogue

Why Don’t You Say it to My Face?

When characters speak in fiction, it is meant to resemble a more concise version of human interaction. It subtracts the filler pleasantries and zooms in on the most important aspects of a conversation, and so any small talk topics like the weather and sports should be exempt from dialogue.

Unless, of course, weather and sports are important aspects of the story…

Otherwise we love experiencing fiction because we get to eavesdrop on people’s most vulnerable conversations.

Sound creepy? It kinda does, but these characters aren’t real!

Or are they?

Well, they are only as real as you can portray them in terms of their emotional reactions to their interactions with each other and the world you created for them.

Dialogue should reveal four things:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Character
  • Relationship

To reveal plot, characters need to talk about the central theme and objective in a way that lets you in on the most crucial concern in their world. Perhaps it’s poverty in a post-apocalyptic world, and so the characters will talk a lot about how there’s a shortage of food and shelter after some devastating event that destroyed their world.

Everything they talk about should be about survival and rebuilding their society. In doing so, they also get to reveal the setting since it serves as a backdrop for the plot.

Along with exposition and narrative, talking about the place they live in is another way to help describe the setting. As a viewer, we will see their world in a certain way, but it’s interesting to see when a character’s views contradicts ours.

Perhaps the post-apocalytpic world might seem bleak and hopeless to us, but the inhabitants and the way they speak can reveal how much hope they have in their own survival. Furthermore, it can reveal what kinds of bonds are created in such hardship.

As Long as We’ve Got Each Other

conversationSo on top revealing plot and setting, dialogue must also reveal character. When people talk, they are always revealing what they think and how they feel, whether they intend to or not. It’s inescapable. Each person is equipped with their own unique way of expressing themselves in terms of what they value and what they want.

Now it’s tricky because you don’t want your characters blatantly saying “we live in an apocalytpic world and starve every day.” You have to find a way that makes it sound natural, much like every day conversation, but of course remembering to always keep it concise and in relevance to the plot.

Life would be much easier if people were more direct and honest about how they feel and why they have those feelings, but we usually end up expressing all that in different ways that can be interpreted in different ways since we all have our own subjective experiences and opinions.

Because we all have such differing preferences and opinions, we often end up in arguments revealing what we all expect of each other and the world, thus revealing how we relate to each other. Where we differ and where we have commonalities is the bridge between two people, and there’s a push and pull dynamic that occurs in fiction and in real life.

We often want people to like the same stuff as us, but without the difference of opinion we would not have the privilege of being challenged to re-evaluate our values, feelings, and beliefs.

And that is the very point of fiction; to allow us to safely and passively experience a manifestation of our inner clash of values played out to us in another real with its own metaphysical and epistemological laws. With characters who represent different sides of ourselves and we get the chance to pick and choose, based on the consequences of their actions and interactions, what values and beliefs we must keep or discard–all done in a way that entertains us while informing us.

Semi-Final Words

Thus concludes The Four Pillars of Fiction series, thank you for your time. Let me know if these posts have been helpful and if you have any feedback or criticisms on how to possibly improve future and current writing tips, let me know! I’m always more than happy to hear your thoughts whether they’re simple kudos, questions, or criticisms.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction BONUS Post, where I will be using my own novels as examples for each aspect of fiction covered in this series…

 

The Four Pillars of Fiction: Introduction

The Four Pillars of Fiction need to be structurally sound in order to maintain your story’s integrity. Each pillar needs to be of equal height and width of the other pillars, or you may end up with a lopsided surface.

But with every rule comes an exception, and there are times where uneven pillars can either work for or against the story. We shall explore the convention of an even structure, and the possibility of leaving one intentionally short within good reason.

4 pillars

Welcome to a four part series where I will be detailing the fundamentals of writing fiction!

Together we will go into great on crafting solid blueprints that will help you develop a firm foundation for your story. Each pillar should seamlessly compliment each other and ultimately deliver a rivetting and captivating experience for your readers.

Part 1: PLOT

The plot is the pillar built from the events in your story. Every scene has a purpose, and every significant plot point must simutaneously ask new questions and reveal vital information about the world and its inhabitants.

Part 2: Characters

Without any characters, there is no story. We need some form of a sentient being in which to experience the world through, as well as relate to in terms of emotionality and intellectual stimulation. I’ve already made several posts about characters, and that very fact alone is reason enough to prove just how important it is to have solid characters in your story.

Part 3: Setting

Likewise with characters, a physical setting is required for a story or your characters will just be interacting in an empty vacuum. The world in which they inhabit needs to exist within the metaphysical laws of your story in terms of its relation to reality.

Magic? Technology? Or just plain contemporary? Whatever your setting is, it must serve as a logical physical playground for your characters to act out their particular drama.

Part 4: Dialogue

We relate and reveal through conversation. What do your characters have to say about the world, themselves, and their situations? To each other? Every character is equipped with their own unique way of speaking that expresses their desires and inner turmoil.

And of course, conversation is not just limited to verbal communication. We will also take a look at how non-verbal communication can serve as a solid substitute for conventional dialogue.

Pack Your Bags For an Adventure

And that is all for a quick overview of what I will be covering in the next couple of weeks.

I hope you are as excited as I am right now to delve into The Four Pillars of Fiction!

Bring your existing tools and be ready to sharpen them, as well as craft several new ones along the way. Together we will build the most structurally sound stories.