Bonding with Your Characters

The relationship your readers feel for your characters shouldn’t be left to chance. You’re in charge of how readers respond to your story people.

Or you should be.

We want readers to either love or hate our characters. What we don’t want is a “meh” reaction. Or even worse, “Who? I don’t remember her.”


1) The best place to start in creating a likeable character is to think about the qualities you like, the traits that you respond to.

For example, you might admire someone who’s good, honest, loyal, sensitive/empathetic, intelligent, and has integrity.

2) Think about characters you’ve loved in books. Not just enjoyed, but loved. Can you remember their traits? What aspect of them did you admire most?

3) Combine these two lists into one and see if any or all of the qualities on it could apply to the character you’re designing.

4) Add some flaws, but make them endearing or provide shortcomings that readers can relate to.

5) How can you show your character demonstrating these qualities in action? Can you build scenes or show confrontations where integrity–for example–would be tested?


1) Think about behavior you despise. Is it cheating, lying, being abusive or manipulative?

2) Consider the most vivid villains you’ve ever read. What made them stand out? What made them memorable to you?

3) As before, combine your lists and award your villain with some of these despicable qualities.

4) Make sure to give the bad guy a likable quality or a bit of charm because you don’t want a cartoonish Snidely Whiplash villain. In other words, this individual has the potential to be good but has chosen not to be.

5) Figure out opportunities for your less-than-likable characters to behave in ways that will make readers hate them.

For example, in Naomi Novik’s novel, HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON, the protagonist meets a character who seems cheery, friendly, helpful, and refined at first but is in fact neglectful of his dragon. Again and again, readers are shown the valiant dragon drooping in his pen, depressed and insufficiently cared for. We see the man criticizing his dragon unjustly. And when the dragon is wounded and dying, his handler has to be coerced to pet the creature and give him a few kind words.

Character actions will have much more effective impact on readers than any amount of description.


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3 responses to “Bonding with Your Characters

  1. I’m dealing with a “meh” reaction to a main character. I know why and am trying to figure out the best method to change that. Whew.

  2. LauranceS

    Do the same guidelines apply when attempting to write a murder mystery? Isn’t the mystery writer’s greatest challenge, how do you hide the true villain in plain sight?

    I have been slowly reading your past posts. Can I ask you questions from older posts or do you want to stick to more current topics only?


    • Yes, the same guidelines apply to mysteries. The writer may manipulate readers into loving the character who turns out to be the villain. Or readers will be fooled into suspecting a character who’s innocent. Either way, the character needs to be vivid.

      Hiding the villain in plain sight is the whole game of the mystery genre. One way is through presenting several suspects, equally vivid in unique ways, with equally strong motivations for committing the murder.

      As for past posts, of course you may ask me questions regarding them.

      🙂 Deb

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