Writing Tools: Characters

What makes a great character in fiction writing?

What makes him/her memorable? What is it about them that engages the reader so that they invest in them?

Great characters…

  • Are believable in character and action
  • Provoke an emotional response
  • Are proactive, not passive. They don’t wait for someone to fix their problem for them – they take charge of their own destiny
  • Give the reader the feeling that they’ve got under their skin and understand them
  • Show vulnerability; a strength or weakness

These are essential points to note in creating your characters, but wait, there’s more.

How often have you read a book or short story with several characters taking active part – and you just lose track of who’s who?

As the writer it’s your job to transfer your characters from your head to the page for the reader.

You can help your reader get a handle on your characters by giving brief physical descriptions. Tall, short, hair colour, eye colour, style of dress, and so on.

But not only that. Make them distinctive.


Well, one reason characters can seem interchangeable is that they all sound the same. None has their own voice. So as well as giving brief physical descriptions of them, strive to give them personality and spirit, too.

Practise by describing your best friend. You might mention their hair colour, job, family, etc. But wouldn’t you also mention that they love a good laugh, that they screw their nose up when they’re thinking, that they’re incredibly kind, that they’re great at choosing birthday presents, or knowing just the right thing to say….

Clothes, language, volume and speed of speech, mannerisms… All can be brought into play.

It’s kind of along the lines of using the five senses – you’re fleshing out the bones of your characters, turning them from one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs into two-dimensional people your reader can believe in and imagine she knows.


Catch up with the previous Writer’s Tools here and join our weekly chat on twitter here 

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.