Basic Guide to Creating Epic Characters (Or How to Emotionally Destroy Your Readers)

What’s a book without some incredible characters? Characters we all love and secretly want to be.

Characters I pretend to be every time I slip on a pair of knee high boots. (Which is basically every time I wear boots, because short person problems)

Well rounded characters with hopes, dreams, and a hero’s journey. People just like you and me! Actually, maybe not?

A heartbroken prince driven by vengeance? (Are any of you a prince? Please, send me your number)

Maybe a teenaged girl running away from a dystopian government? (Are you on the FBI wanted list? Um, I may have to report you. Sorry)

Or, perhaps, a cutthroat charged with stealing from a neighboring kingdom? (Steal the prince for me, ok?)

Maybe all characters aren’t NICE people. But they are compelling. Just not quite exactly like you and I.

Since none of us are actual cutthroat, swashbuckling princes, how do you write compelling characters?

It’s easy. (Actually, not. But let’s pretend for now,)

Just imagine you’re a cutthroat prince wrecking havoc on some poor characters life. So easy, right? 

To make it easier for you, I’m pulling all these writer’s tricks into one post today. (Thank me later, ok?) Ready to wreck some havoc? 

My Basic Guide to torturing Creating Epic Characters

“Do not pity the dead. Pity the living and above all, those who live without love.”*

Oldest trick in the book. Works nearly every time. From Katniss to Hamlet, murdering your characters loved ones has proven to tick people off.

Murdering people might topple a kingdom or two. Spark a rebellion. Make us all cry. (Why Prim???)

But maybe don’t make them an orphan? Because we might all be tired of orphans, sorry Harry and Cinderella.

Another story without any parents? Another orphan? #shocker

Ok, so how do I plan on using this trope? (Because, to be honest, ALL of these are tropes)

My plan – One of my guy characters does loose his love. But she chooses to leave him – and I’m playing with how that affects him as a person. Can he do anything to bring her back? Or is she just done with him?

 

*if we’re going to mention death, we have to quote the MASTER of Death. 

“A lot of people don’t believe in curses.
A lot of people don’t believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn’t make a difference whether you believe in it or not.”*

Or at least make the characters think they’re cursed?

Do they reject friendship because they’re afraid they will accidentally destroy all their friends?
Guaranteed to make us all cry for them. And almost excuse their jerkish behavior.

Ahem, talking Will Herondale, Jace Herondale, (Basically all the Herondales)

Perhaps we’re all afraid of being cursed. So this trick of character development might be playing on all 0ur fears?

^how authors might feel about our characters fears^

My plan – I’m rewriting a Little Mermaid retelling. Of course, there’s lots of curses flying around in the original Anderson folktale. So expect a few in my story.

 

*Skip Cassandra Clare quote for the funniest story ever. HOLES! 

“It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them.”*

Loneliness can do some interesting things to your characters. If they’re Anne Shirley or Will Herondale, they might just fall in love with books. That’s a good thing, btw.

But total isolation does something to a character. Solitary confinement can drive your character (& your readers) insane.

Be careful, insane characters aren’t exactly the heroes we root for.

Am I using this trope? Not sure. I’m including a very traumatic kidnapping. The character feels abandoned and might be verging on the brink of trauma induced insanity. (They’re not insane, just so traumatized that it’s hard to settle back into the normal pace of life. Actually impossible. They have to establish a new normal)

 

*Now time for a perfect Cassandra Clare Quote

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.”

If you want your readers to really, really feel your characters pain, betrayal works. Almost every time.
Remember how we all hated what Peter Pettigrew did to James and Lily Potter? Yeah, I was incredibly mad Harry let him live. Just kill the ratty traitor!

Betrayal really, really affects your character. They’ll either be broken or driven to find revenge. Think Hamlet?

And betrayal stabs your readers hearts, too.

My plan – A pseudo betrayal. No one intends to betray anyone. But it will happen because of the aforementioned curses and all the terrible things happening in this magical world. (hehehe)

Remember the days when “a magical world” was a synonym for a happy vacation?

Now it’s more like, Welcome to a world of heartbreak, treachery and death. Have fun!

“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”

Steal something from your character. Their home. All their friends. Or better yet, just make them a thief?

Anyway, if your character is robbed, we might guess some of the plot. They’re going to try to get their stuff back, right???
In theory, we won’t see the all those plot twists coming. (hopefully) And all those plot twists SHOULD make your character grow.
Maybe they’ll never get the stolen item back? But we’ll still fall in love with them? (hopefully)

Or maybe they’re going to be stealing things from other people? With a really cool gang of 6 epic characters? Six characters who hate each other? Six outcasts? Why does this book sound so familiar and amazing? 😂😂😂

Yep, I do have a major crush on Kaz and his gang. But a certain Disney thief might have already won my heart. #sorrynotsorry

“Wake you up and cure your aching
Take your walls and start ’em breaking
Now that’s a deal that seems worth taking”*

If all else fails, just throw your character into a high fantasy setting with a lot of war, magic and Fae fantasy going on. People will still read it, because the setting is amazing.

Confession – Bookworms just can’t resist complicated magical settings. 

^Me discovering another fantasy world^

And maybe after a couple hundred pages, we might start seeing some incredible character development?
(Of course, I’m not talking about a specific author. I’d never do that)

Seriously, if our characters development is falling flat, just put all that emotional torture growth in the sequel.

After all, we’ll fall in love with the second book, and forget the first book was tedious. Right?

*Hugh Jackman convincing me to run away to the circus is like convincing me to start a new fantasy trilogy. 

There are probably many more ways to destroy create complicated characters.

But since this is a blog post and not an encyclopedia, we’re not listing everything an author could possibly do to a character.

(We’re also not talking about things I’ve promised never, ever to do to a character. At least, not today)

In all seriousness, our characters go through many of the same things as you and I. Ok, maybe we’re not dueling wizards or breaking magical spells.

But we are dealing with friends who betray us, loved ones who die unexpectedly, and things that just go wrong. Bad stuff.

I don’t think authors necessarily need to experience really bad stuff to write characters who go through horrific experiences. (If they did, I would be crying for a lot of authors)

Instead, I think we can take our own experiences – how we responded and imagine our characters experience and response.

Maybe that whole topic of sharing experience with your characters is for a whole other blog post. 🙂

lets chat

What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done to a character? What torturous character experience breaks your heart? 

Is there an author whose character makes you cry?

How do you think authors use their own life experience with their characters? 

Is there something you would NEVER do to a character?

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2 Comments

  1. January 13, 2018 / 11:12 am

    Ahh, Eugene!! Tangled is one of my favorite movies ever.
    This is an awesome post! 🙂

    • Elizabeth Hunter
      Author
      January 13, 2018 / 1:20 pm

      Tangled is definitely one of my favorites. Eugene and Rapunzel are just the cutest. 😍

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