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7 Myths About Writing Great Characters

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Whether you’re writing a novel or a script, it’s important that your story contains great characters. Many of us think we know how to create a compelling character, but in fact there can be many myths when it comes to creating great characters. This post debunks some of these myths.

Great heroes need to be wholly good

While it’s important that the hero of the story ultimately saves the day, not every action they take needs to be unquestionably virtuous or ethical. Sometimes a hero with character flaws is more relatable. It also gives your hero something else to overcome in their quest to do good. 

Just make sure to keep a character flaw consistent from the beginning. And make sure that they don’t do anything so bad that it cannot be redeemed.

Great villains need to be wholly bad

While some successful villains are pure evil, not all great villains need to be wholly bad. Sometimes it’s okay to make the audience sympathetic to a villain’s motives so that the character is more complex and engaging. You can even have a villain turn into a hero at the end to redeem themselves (as was the case with Darth Vader).

Just make sure that you don’t create more sympathy for your villain than you do for your hero – otherwise you can accidentally turn a hero into a villain! 

Your protagonist needs a love interest

Not every story needs to have a love interest. In fact, love interests can sometimes get in the way of a good story if the love interest isn’t fully developed and key to the plot. A key example of an unnecessary love interest is Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter novels.  

Before writing a love interest for a character, consider ‘do they need one?’. A character doesn’t have to be in a relationship to be complete. Sometimes it only serves to weaken a good story.

Every great character needs an arc

Many great characters do have arcs in which they change over the course of a story. However, there are also many great characters who don’t change throughout a story such as Sherlock Holmes and Jay Gatsby. 

If these static characters are complex enough, they may not need an arc to keep them compelling. You can also contrast them with characters that do have an arc to show why one character succeeds and another fails. To avoid static characters becoming flat characters, make sure that they still have a backstory and a goal  – especially if they are a main character.

Characters in serious stories all need to be serious

Just because a story is serious, doesn’t mean that no character can tell a joke. In fact, humour can have many great uses in a serious story such as providing a breather after a serious dramatic moment or even letting the audience’s guard down in order to make a serious moment more shocking.

Comic relief characters are sometimes used to provide these small moments of humour. The key is using them appropriately – you don’t want to ruin a serious moment with a joke, unless that joke has a heavy message behind it or ends up increasing the tension between two serious characters. You should also make sure that comic relief characters aren’t too central to a serious story.

Characters in comedies all need to be funny

Similarly, not every character in a comedy needs to be cracking jokes or doing goofy things. In fact, adding a serious character can sometimes amplify the humour, as their serious reactions to the more silly characters can be turned into comedy.

Such characters may also be able to provide a serious message that can give your comedy story more depth. This can be particularly effective with dark comedies where the central theme may be something quite heavy that needs to be represented by a serious character. 

The most important characters need the most pages/screen time

Who is the most iconic character in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice? Of course, it’s Beetlejuice himself (the movie is even named after him). But did you know that he only has just 17 minutes of screen time in the movie? Meanwhile, Hannibal Lector only has 16 minutes of screen time in Silence of the Lambs! 

Sometimes it’s better to provide teasing glimpses of your most exciting and important characters, providing that they’re not the narrator. This is particularly important if you want to maintain a mystique around a character. It leaves your audience wanting more of these characters rather than allowing the audience to get bored of them.