To write a believable and engaging character, it’s not enough just to consider their internal thoughts and behaviors. The way they interact with one another is just as important and if you neglect this element of your writing, you might end up with characters that aren’t just unbelievable, but also downright dislikeable!
Even Good Guys Have Enemies
Everyone has people in their life that they like and others that they dislike. Even if you’re the sort who can’t completely hate another person, there will always be certain individuals who you find annoying or would just rather avoid if you can help it. The same goes for your characters. It seems obvious, right? But there are a couple of traps here that are very easy to fall into.
Writing characters that like each other is relatively easy, unless you are trying to create a hardcore sociopath. But writing characters who don’t get along is considerably harder, especially if you are trying to persuade your audience to like them and it’s natural for a writer to worry that their readers will be put off if the character comes across too negative. In reality, the opposite can be true. Unless your character is a Disney Princess, the audience will not expect them to love everyone they meet and doing so could even put up a barrier between them and your readers. If you give in to temptation with this, you put yourself in danger of creating a character that is just too perfectly patient and loving for a real person to identify with.
Another worry for many writers is the question of who your character should dislike. It’s easy enough to have them at odds with the villain of your story, but in real life, people dislike others even when they’re not objectively evil. Realistically, your protagonists could even dislike one another. A good tip to create realistic relationships is to start not with the “who” but the “what”. As in, what personality traits, habits, or attitudes really get on your character’s nerves? Do they really hate people who are too formal, or tell white-lies, or are always cracking their knuckles? None of these traits would be enough to make a person evil, but they could be enough to make your character very uncomfortable or irritated. And that’s OK. Real people don’t always get along.
Your Protagonist doesn’t know she’s a Protagonist
I’ve talked before about the dangers of making your protagonist the center of attention. Even if the story is about her, the other characters have their own lives, problems and thoughts so they won’t always want everything to revolve around the protagonist. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Not only do the supporting characters not see the protagonist as a protagonist, but she doesn’t see herself as one either. No real person would expect to be the center of attention all the time. Even if our own lives are the thing we think about most, we still accept that we play the supporting cast in the lives of the people around us. So, use this opportunity to explore some juicy side plots.
This isn’t to say that you need to put the protagonist’s story on hold every other page. Remember that her story can advance when she learns or develops as a person, when she comes to understand the other characters better or when the circumstances of the world around her change. The protagonist can still move forwards during the side plots, it’s just that the other characters may not realize it.
To me, these are the two most important elements of character relationships, but there are plenty more which I hope to come back to in a later article. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post, please click like and follow, and join me next week when I will be talking about why being badly published is worse than being unpublished.
Feature Image by James Jordan