By Anna Albo
Have you ever read a story and wanted to scream at the main character? Or wish you could talk a little sense into them? Conversely, have you ever encountered a character you wish you could meet? Better yet, wish you could date?
Memorable characters are the ones that stay with you. The ones that get you talking, the ones that make you comment on Wattpad. When writing new adult, our characters are usually embarking on a new journey, gaining independence, or trying to find their way in the world. Maybe they’ve left home and are off to college. They could be struggling with what to do next with their lives. Do they start new jobs? Join the military? Embark on a new romance? New adult characters give us so much to work with, so how do you create a character that people will talk about? Will love and/or hate?
- They have to be just short of too-good-to-be-true or, its counterpart, one hundred percent pure evil. Antagonists must have some redeeming quality and your protagonists need a hint of being a badass. A perfect character won’t fly because, well, no one is perfect.
I’ll use some of my own favourite characters as examples. In The Senator’s Son, I created Zach Walker, a rich kid with a heart. He’s the perfect boyfriend, rich, handsome with an Ivy League law school future. I cannot tell you how many of my readers commented that they wanted Zach as their boyfriend. Yes, I wanted him to come off as the perfect guy, it was quite intentional, but I also laid the groundwork for something sinister in his past. He was a frat-boy party legend with a few nasty skeletons hiding away in his closet. I left hints along the way that maybe he wasn’t so squeaky clean. My readers caught on and by the end of my book, a new side of him emerged. While he wanted to protect his girlfriend, the one he loved, a dark side was peeking through, one prepared to blackmail and ruin anyone who hurt her. His perfect guy routine was tarnished a little.
- Your character can’t be black and white. They need flaws. They need to make bad choices. They need to make your readers want to pull their hair out. More often than not in new adult, I’m finding that readers are the most open to characters with flaws. They do not want to read about the beautiful bombshell who says and does all the right things and meets a gorgeous guy who never makes a mistake and they live happily ever after. Doesn’t that sound boring?
Using my same example, The Senator’s Son, Emma Andrews is my main character. She’s telling the story. She’s new to college and chasing after her best friend and secret crush, Jake. But when Jake betrays her, she has a hard time accepting how bad a friend he is. She can’t let him go, mostly because she loves him, but also because he’s her only friend. Without Jake she’ll be alone. So Emma makes a lot of bad choices. And even though Zach Walker is head over heels in love with her, she’s fixated on Jake and it drives my Wattpad readers crazy, with most of them leaving their displeasure in their comments.
I can’t tell you how many people wanted Emma to wise up, to move on and forget about Jake. At first I thought I should change that, toughen her up, but then it hit me. People were talking about Emma. They were engaged and frustrated. I got them talking about her and what writer doesn’t want their readers talking about their characters? I had achieved my goal.
Keep in mind that not all your characters have to be chiselled hunks or runway models. Readers love characters who enjoy a greasy burger without worrying about the calories, or a guy who may not have the perfect body. While you can make your characters look any way you want, characters your readers can relate to will give them a closer connection and keep them more invested. I won’t use the word “flaw” here, because I don’t believe physical traits should be considered flaws. Physical traits give your characters colour and originality.
While flaws are good, don’t go overboard. Just as perfect characters are boring, so are ones who do absolutely everything wrong. Balance is the key.
- Your character needs a voice. If they all sound the same, who wants to read that? We don’t all sound the same. We don’t all use the same words. Think of your friends. Do your guy friends sound like your girl friends? Probably not. When writing, make sure all your characters say and do different things. I like to have little character quirks. For instance, one will always say, “Wow” or “Yikes” as their catchphrase, while none of my other characters will. A character will have a tick, like wrinkling her nose, or nervously tapping his fingers. I wrote about a mumbler once. No other characters will do the same actions. (Note, it’s annoying for readers if you character wrinkles her nose every second page. Use those traits only when needed)
When I’m writing, I’m visualizing my characters and what they are saying and doing. They aren’t identical twins, so don’t write them like they are.
- You need good and bad. Every story needs a good guy and a bad guy. You need to give your readers someone to cheer for or to hate with a passion. If everyone is good, that’s boring. If everyone is bad, well, that’s boring too. Like I mentioned before, your good guys need flaws and their own distinctive voice. Same with the bad guys. Your characters should never resemble cartoon characters. In The Senator’s Son, my main bad guy is Bianca, the girlfriend of Jake. Yes, she’s rotten to the core, and because she’s mostly a secondary character, I didn’t give her many redeeming qualities, but along the way I give hints about what makes her tick. Jealousy. That’s her flaw, that’s what drives her. How did I know I succeeded in making her connect with my readers? When they started giving her nicknames. My personal favourite is still Bianut.
- Your characters can’t suddenly lose their minds. A good story can go horribly wrong when your main character who is sweet and innocent suddenly becomes a serial killer in the span of a few pages. No one is going to buy that and they will stop reading. That doesn’t mean you can’t start your story with your main character being a sweetheart, but the only way anyone is going to believe she is a mass murderer is if you give them clues along the way. Maybe something traumatic happens or someone wrongs them. You need to convince your readers why a characters changes. You don’t wake up in the morning and decide to go on a rampage and neither do your characters.
- You’re telling a story through your characters so you have to satisfy your readers. Once they finish your book, they want to know that your main characters have learned something. They’ve grown or they found happiness. And in some cases, they’re darker or more jaded. Whatever direction you go, you’ve given your readers some kind of resolution. This is especially important with new adult fiction. New adult it about life changes. If your characters don’t evolve, they won’t be memorable.