Common Character Mistakes and How to Fix Them

We have all run into that moment when you’re writing has something missing. You feel you’ve made an interesting world, or set up, or back story. But your character seems lacking. In this post we will cover common character mistakes and lots of strategies you can use to fix them.

One problem I continually run into is that I make all my characters interesting and dynamic except my main character. I play it too safe. I want them to be likable and don’t want them to take chances. And then, guess what? They turn out bland. I am constantly finding myself having to re-amp my main character so that they aren’t boring. Because who wants to read about a boring character?

Now, I’m guessing that not all of you have the same problem as me so I’m going to list just a few things that could be causing your ‘boring character’ problem. Because, once you identify the problem, you can go on your way to fixing it.

THEY ARE FLAT

Flat characters mean they are not round (haha). Which basically means that they don’t seem like a real human because they only have 1 or 2 characteristics that define them. Basically, the jokester is just a jokester, the evil guy is just evil. No one is just evil, they have a reason. And, they have other personality traits.

This also happens when you make a character that is ‘too good’. We have all met those select few people who you interact with and are like ‘I bet they’ve never had a bad thought in their life.’ WRONG. Good people have bad thoughts too, they have just practiced pushing them away. Good people have temptations and good people have flaws. Please give them flaws.

As a writer, you can’t only know the surface personality of your characters, you need to know them in depth. Characters will react to things differently based on their instincts, their past experiences, and the pros and cons of a situation. Know them and all of a sudden your scenes are much easier to write cause you’re not making up their responses. You’re listening to the character you’ve created, the whole of their experiences and emotions, and seeing what they make of it.

THEY DON’T STICK TO CHARACTER

There’s a difference between a character that can surprise you by their actions and one that acts out of character. If they do something seemingly out of character, there better be a very in character reason for them to have done it. You cannot simply make your character do anything that is convenient in your story at any point in time. There must be a set up and a reason that the reader can understand either in the moment, or later on.

THEY ARE GENERIC

This is often the problem I run into. I make my character too agreeable, too go-with-the-flow, too reactive. And that does not make a good main character. Often, the problem here is that the character is driven by the plot instead the plot being driven by the character. If the character is simply floating through an interesting plot letting things happen to them, that is a boring character. Your character needs to influence the plot. There should be a problem that they are trying to fix, a goal they are struggling to reach. Which leads us to our next point:

THEY DON’T HAVE A GOAL

Your character needs to have drive. Whether they are the main character or a side character, if they are floating through the story with no purpose then there is no tension and, therefore, no interest. Readers keep reading (and watchers keep watching) because of hope and fear. And this hope and fear stems from a character that they care about working hard towards what they want. You want your reader to be invested and they need something more than a meandering character to invest in.

This counts for the entire book and individual scenes. When your character takes action, the reader wants to understand what is driving them emotionally to do said action. And I don’t mean why they chose a banana for breakfast instead of an apple. I’m talking about why Harry Potter turned back to save Cedric Diggory instead of going for the Goblet and winning the Tri-Wizard tournament.

PLOT IS LACKING

It is possible that your character isn’t boring, but your plot is lacking. You could have very interesting characters but a flimsy plot. Granted, great characters can pull you through some pretty lacking plot sometimes. But you don’t want to have to rely on that. You want your story to be well-rounded. And that includes having a main tension which creates hope and fear in the audience.

HOW TO FIX YOUR CHARACTER MISTAKES:

  • Create a backstory for them – If you know them better, their personality will come out more naturally in your writing. People gain personality traits from how they grew up and different experiences they’ve had. (Remember that just because you know everything about the, doesn’t mean your audience needs too).
  • Fill out a character chart – There are loads of them online. They typically ask questions about your character that you can answer to help you better get to know them. Sometimes they’ll ask questions like ‘What is something that would make your character totally break down?’ And that is good to know. You want to break down your character. You need to know what situations they can blow off and what’s going to make them cry. If you know how they grew up and what situations they have been through, you can better know how they’ll react in situations, even if your readers don’t.
  • Get into their heads – What I will do is write from one perspective (main character) first. Then, I will go back through the scene in a second character’s head to see if their reactions/actions match their character or if i was just having them conveniently react to the main character so that the scene went how I wanted it to.
  • Don’t make them do something simply because it fits your plot – People sometimes say that their ‘characters take over the story’ because often you’ll have a plot in mind, try to write it, and realize that your characters don’t want to cooperate.
  • Give them drive – Often when I’m struggling with a reactive character, it is because I haven’t given them enough purpose in the story. They are just there to be funny, or are simply ‘eyes’ for the reader to see the story through. Don’t be afraid to make them rough, give them issues, give them wants, give them drive.
  • Make their main goal important – To make the goal strong, make it something that they can’t ignore. Without some sort of consequence, readers will not feel the fear inside wondering if they will fail. (This is how you create tension)
  • Look at your story structure – Maybe your plot is a mess because your structure is a mess. Stories have a rise and fall, an inciting incident and a conclusion (and so much in between). Sometimes your ideas are good, but your structure muddles it all up.
  • Check out my editing services 🙂 – Not to pat my own back, but I was literally trained to help make structure and plot stronger. Having another set of eyes take a look at your tangled yarn ball of a story (no offense, I’ve been there) can be immensely helpful. I can help you work through any problems that you’re having and point out anything that I notice as well.

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