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How to Make Up a Literary Character in a Couple of Steps?

All writers are also readers. To achieve success in your creative work, it is really important to remember that and imagine yourself in your reader’s shoes. So, you have some free time to read a nice book, and now you want to choose the best one. Which one would you prefer?

  • Another moving-into-adulthood story
  • A story that stars a charismatic young student suffering from neurosis and trying to untangle the conflict of self-sufficiency and desire to help others

No doubt that the second one sounds more intriguing, but both talk about the same thing. “The Catcher in the Rye” has Holden Caulfield in the center of the story, and this character moves the entire plot because he is alive. He has inner conflicts, pains, worries, and dreams. We like following his personal story and see the world through his eyes. Without the character’s charisma, the plot would be flat and boring – we could retell it in a couple of sentences. But Holden’s story keeps people’s attention for years because they relate to him.

An interesting protagonist is one of the main ingredients of a story’s success. Read this guide to find out how to create a memorable one.

Character’s motivations and aims

It is impossible to tell a story about a character that doesn’t have goals and motivations to reach them. The same idea applies to non-fiction works like dissertations, articles, essays and other types of papers. Goals are desires your character has – he/she will try to reach them during the story you tell. Motivations give these goals meaning: they explain why your character wants to reach them. Make sure that you don’t leave the goals self-explanatory, like “someone wants to save the world just because he wants to save the world.” This would make your character (and therefore – an entire story) flat. Let’s see why famous book characters take actions:

  • Physiological needs

Maybe, your character is trying to survive an apocalypse? Perhaps, he/she is starving, looking for shelter, trying to avoid a catastrophe?

  • Safety
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These needs might include protection from assault, health, social acceptance, money, etc.

  • Love

If all of your characters’ physical needs are satisfied, they might be searching for love and friendship.

  • Esteem

Another great motivation for your character to act is a search for recognition, respect, or independence.

  • Self-actualization

Spiritual enlightenment, artistic pursuit, or knowledge might be the goals of characters that search for meaning in their lives.


The physical features of your character can tell a lot about him/her. Don’t forget to describe how he/she looks – this will make the character more informative and help readers visualize him/her. For example, you can define the following:

  • Appearance

Is your character’s appearance important for the story? In which way? Does his/her appearance help him/her reach the goals or vice versa? How do other characters see him/her?

  • Clothes

Does your character wear something special? Maybe, his/her outfit or accessories are essential for the narration or explain something?

  • Voice

How does your character sound? Maybe, he/she has some unique modulations or phrases? Does the voice match the way he/she looks like?

Make sure that you add some features that make your character more than just “brunette with a ringing voice.” They should be different from all the other brunettes with ringing voices. How to do that? For example, you can tell about their:

  • Gestures

Do they have some special gestures when they talk?

  • Interaction habits

How do they communicate? Are they nervous or calm? Do they make eye contact?

  • Extremal behavior

How do they behave when they are stressed? Scared? Mad?

To visualize your character, you can try drawing him/her. Make a couple of sketches and see how your character’s appearance supports his/her personality traits. Do they coincide? Can you tell that your character is someone he/she looks like? Or can you tell that the proverb “appearances are deceitful” is about your character?

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External and internal conflict

When a character simply follows his/her aim, reaches it, and then comes back home to watch TV, this doesn’t look too much like a good story. To make it interesting, you should add some obstacles to the text. These obstacles might be inner, outer, or both. The inner conflict is when a character gets in his/her own way. They might have doubts, change their mind, suffer from ambiguousness, ask themselves complicated questions, etc.

The outer conflict is usually brought from the outside. The outer conflict sources typically are other people, nature, supernatural entities, technology, etc. Remember that protagonists are the most interesting when they have antagonists or circumstances that make their lives more challenging.

Weak and strong sides

What are the strong sides of your character, and how would he/she overcome the conflicts? When thinking about the weak and strong traits, try to avoid excesses. If you make your character too cool, he/she will overcome any challenge too easily, which is not very interesting. On the contrary, making them losers is not the best idea as well. At least because it is a commonplace decision to depict losers that reach success when nobody believes in such a miracle.

The best characters are as complicated as people are. They usually have huge networks of strong and weak sides, which allows readers to relate to them on an emotional level. Strong sides make them appealing, but the weak ones make them alive.


Both people and characters are not just sparkles in the darkness that appear for a second and then disappear forever. At least, they are not, in case you are not writing your dissertation on philosophy. For a novel, you need to create a character with a background – circumstances and past. You can tell your readers more about the character by revealing details of his childhood, important memories, education, family, etc. However, overwhelming your readers with a huge story of your character’s past is not an option. Instead, you should rather focus on some crucial details and meaningful scenes.

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Research matters

If you try to depict a character that belongs to a certain class, historical period, social strata, or profession, you must do research. It is pretty embarrassing to read how authors that don’t have enough relevant experience or knowledge try to describe particular people. For example, if the author enjoys a lavish lifestyle and wants to depict a poor person’s life, this might sound a bit irrelevant and strange. If you and your character are people from different worlds, epochs, and social layers, you should do some research to make him/her believable.

For example, you want to write a dialogue about two scientists that work on a secret project – a biological weapon. The story takes place in 1980. Find the following information:

  • Were there any rumors about biological weapons created in their country in 1980?
  • What slang would they use?
  • How did people of their profession communicate with each other?

And the more questions you respond to, the more realistic characters and scenes you will get. Whenever you depict a character whose experience is different from yours, you should prepare yourself first. Talking about characters from other epochs, ethnic backgrounds, or religious beliefs, arm yourself with information. Even if you try to depict someone of a different gender, you will have to do some work! For instance, in addition to your Internet search, you may want to interview someone with relevant experience. It is worth your time and effort. Authenticity encourages readers to feel empathy for characters.


Now you know the recipe for a memorable and deep character! Mind these six steps to create multi-dimensional and meaningful heroes that would capture the hearts of your readers and stay in their memory for long. To sum up, think about your character’s goals and motivations, background, appearance, and features that make him/her special. Remember that a well-thought hero is half of your story’s success!