How to create a credible villain in fiction

How to create a credible villain in fiction

Nothing makes your hero more heroic than a worthy opponent.

So don’t shortchange your villain. Spend every bit as much time crafting him as you do your lead character, if you want your story to work.

(Though I will use male pronouns throughout, this applies equally if your main character is a heroine or your villain is female.)

Too many novelists give plenty of care to every other element of their story, then create what they consider a deliciously evil villain and wonder why the package seems to fall flat.

Often it’s because the bad guy is only that: bad. He’s from Central Casting and might as well be starring in a melodrama, complete with black top hat, cape, and handlebar moustache so we readers can boo and hiss his every entrance.

Every other character is real and nuanced and believable, but the second-most important lead spoils the reader’s whole experience.

Motivation: The Secret Sauce for Creating a Great Villain

Don’t let the word scare you. Motivation doesn’t have to be some nebulous theatrical concept tossed about by method actors trying to get into character. It simply means your bad guy needs a reason for being the person he has become.

If he isn’t working, it’s because you’ve made him the villain only because he’s a bad person. He does evil things because he’s evil.

That’s too easy. Change your thinking.

Try something revolutionary.

If you just can’t understand truly villainous people, try this: Put yourself in their place.

“Wait!” you say. “I’d rather see myself as the hero, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, rising to the challenge, saving the day.”

Well, don’t knock this till you’ve tried it. You’re writing along, and you’ve come to the place where your villain needs to act in some evil way. Your virtual online writing coach has urged you to be sure he has proper motivation.

What does this mean? He can’t be bad, do bad, cause trouble just because he’s the bad guy, so what’s made him this way? What’s behind it? You have to know before you have him do whatever it is he’s about to do.

Take His Place

“But I’m not a villain!” you say. “I’m no Dr. Moriarty or Dracula or Simon Legree.”

Yes, you are. You have your days. You’ve learned to control yourself, or maybe you’re a person of faith and have found control outside yourself. But you know your true nature, your old nature.

We novelists need to become our characters, from young to old, male to female, blue-collar worker to executive, and illiterate to educated. That’s part of the fun of it.

Now take that further. When a friend takes credit for something you accomplished, what’s your first private thought? You get over it, I know. You probably say nothing and let it pass for the sake of the relationship, and that’s great. But dwell on that initial visceral reaction a moment.

Someone you know well and love and trust lies to you, and there’s no question about it. You’re offended, hurt—crushed really. In fact, you’re infuriated. You bite your tongue because you’re a mature adult.

Maybe when you cool down you’ll rationally confront the lie and get to the bottom of it. But for now, entertain that immediate first reaction. Where was your heart and mind then?

I’m not telling you to become mean, rotten, and nasty when we’re all supposed to have grown out of that kind of thing by now. But I am telling you to tap into your dark side long enough to know what makes a good villain tick.

What Makes a Good Villain?

Villains are real people to whom terrible things have happened.

Maybe in childhood, maybe in adolescence, maybe later. At some point, rather than learning and growing, their maturation process stunted and stalled.

Roots of bitterness and anger sprang up in them. On the surface they may have many, if not most, of the same attractive qualities of your hero. But just beneath the surface fester the qualities you can access in yourself if you allow yourself to.

While this may explain the reasons for your villain’s actions, it doesn’t excuse or forgive them. He’s still evil, and he must still be brought to justice. But giving him motivation will make him more than a cardboard cutout.

So conjure a backstory for your villain. Make him real and believable and credible—even attractive in many ways.

And while you’re writing your story, see how many boxes you can check off on this list of characteristics that pertain to your villain.

The more that apply, the more successful your novel is likely to be. Because the more worthy his opponent, the more heroic your hero will appear.

Paula Puddephatt – Author

How To Create Believable Friendships in Your Fiction

How to create a credible villain in fiction

Fictional friendships are important.

How do you ensure that these ring true?

I’ve already shared a post about writing romance, but romantic relationships aren’t the only type that need attention – in reality, or in our stories.

It’s worth considering that, in the context of a story, we will often tend to focus upon maybe one to three close friendships.

This is fine. But it’s also useful to keep in mind that our main characters will generally have a wider friendship circle, of some description. It can sometimes be beneficial to include a name or reference here and there, in order to reflect this.

When developing a friendship, consider the backstory – the history behind the friendship.

My main character, Lucy, has been best friends with Charlotte since primary school. As well as going to school together, they used to be neighbours. This does mean that they have a great deal of shared history. Yet, they have also grown apart, in many respects. By the end of the novel, Charlotte isn’t Lucy’s exclusive “best friend” in quite the same way. At the same time, that shared history will always be there – and that would be the case, even if the friendship ended.

Think about the “why” behind the friendship.

There are usually multiple reasons. In the case of Lucy and Charlotte, obviously they would have become friends partly due to circumstances – because they lived so close to each other, and went to school together. So, yes – the met at school, through work, or at the local chess club, part is always going to be there.

But then there will be other factors, including shared interests, shared secrets, a similar sense of humour – or, going deeper, the same core values. Maybe the friends are actually opposites, in many respects? Which can be good or bad – or a bit of both.

All friendships have their ups and downs, and this definitely needs to be reflected.

In some stories, it will be a major plot point, or a subplot – but, even if it isn’t, it should ideally be communicated, to some degree. No friendship is perfect, after all. The problems and misunderstandings are part of what makes the relationship feel realistic. In this way, hopefully, your reader will be able to relate, and being able to relate leads to caring.

Make sure that your friend characters are fully developed in themselves, and not simply “sidekicks”, with no other obvious role in life.

They need to have their own lives, and not everything they do will be about their friend, even if said friend happens to be your protagonist.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to create believable friendships in your fiction. You might even start to envy your fictional characters, for having such strong friendships. That’s a good sign, because it shows that you believe in your own characters, and can feel the strength of their friendships.

Persuasive characters keep a good story aloft and your readers involved. Whether you lean toward the literary, with prose that would make a cold-blooded insurance adjuster weep, or are creating your genre magnum opus—with rapping vampire detectives, drug-dealing Senators, and naked Kardashians racing to break the code to eternal youth without telemarketers—unless your characters are believable, very few readers will remain awake through the second explosion. Even if your book’s only living inhabitants are fire-breathing alien weasels, they need to be relatable fire-breathing alien weasels.

This guest post is by Grant Jarrett. Originally from northeastern Pennsylvania, Jarrett lived in Manhattan for twenty years before moving to Marin County, CA, where he now works as a writer, ghostwriter, editor, musician, and occasional songwriter. His publishing credits include numerous magazine articles, essays, short stories, and More Towels, his coming-of-age memoir about life on the road. His debut novel, Ways of Leaving, won the Best New Fiction category in the 2014 International Book Awards. The House That Made Me, his 2016 anthology about the meaning of home, was chosen as an Elle “Trust Us” book. Jarrett is an avid cyclist, skier, and surf skier.

How to create a credible villain in fiction

How to create a credible villain in fiction

So where do you find these characters? How do you make them breathe?

1. Observe the people around you.

Examine how they speak, how they behave, their tics and twitches, pauses and stutters, the phrases and movements they repeat. Notice, too, what they omit, how they sometimes express themselves without words, how they sometimes choose not to express themselves at all. That, too, can have meaning. Analyze what makes them distinctly them and use it. Steal from life; that’s what it’s there for.

2. People are multidimensional.

Their flaws and contradictions are what make them interesting (think Hitler and his apparent affection for his dogs). Without some humanizing, sometimes contradictory characteristics, or some deeper history, a villain becomes no more than a pale symbol, a cliché. Similarly, a perfect protagonist is little more than a cartoon, one-dimensional and as plausible as a moose on ice skates. Most people are neither heroes nor villains. They are more complex, more interesting, more like us. Endow your characters with flaws, faults, weaknesses. Allow your heroes to fail and your villains an occasional success (without electing them President, please). Create characters who are rich and complex, flawed and sometimes contradictory, and your readers will find the depth required to immerse themselves.

3. Be compassionate, or at least empathetic toward your characters.

When writing, avoid passing judgment on even those characters who do terrible things. Your job is not to judge them, but to portray them honestly and accurately. Let readers see them clearly and draw their own conclusions. Let them find the truth. This search and discovery will keep them reading and caring and believing.

4. Individuality.

In my latest novel there are three main characters, very different from one another, with distinct voices and vastly disparate viewpoints. One is uneducated and crude, another has the bombastic verbosity of a wizard wannabe, and the third is an educated middle-American grade school teacher. Their voices are unmistakably their own. I did dozens of revisions in an attempt to ensure consistency and make each character more real, more alive. I am not suggesting that all the characters in your novel should possess quirky individual voices, strange dialects, and bizarre verbal tics, just that (unless you are David Mamet, in which case, why are you reading this and can you please send me money?) a five-year-old homeless child from Newark should not “sound” the same as a 65-year-old Oxford Professor of Pomposity from Wales.

5. Humanize your characters

Remember what we share, the aspects of being human that connect us, the needs and desires and joys and disappointments and hurts, the physical aches and pains, the self-doubt, the suspect motivations, the unexpected acts of kindness that define us. If you create characters that you care about, that you believe, characters who are real enough to make you laugh or cry or punch the wall in rage, your readers will believe and care. But don’t expect me to plaster your wall.

6. Trust your characters.

When I hit a roadblock it’s often because I’m trying to force a character to do or say something he or she simply would not do or say. Knowing better than I do, they simply go on strike, demanding more credible working conditions. Of course people sometimes act in ways contradictory to what you know, or think you know, about them, but when they do it reveals something about who they are and alters your perception of them. If you bend them into unnatural positions without recognizing the consequences, your characters will cease to be compelling and believable. Rather than asking someone to perform duties clearly outside his or her job description, find someone more suited to murdering the psychotic haberdasher or stealing the tainted gherkins or seducing the wily blowfish or whatever is required to move your story forward. Or let the story lead you down an unexpected path.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, given your characters life, and placed in their paths obstacles of substance, your story will begin to take on a life of its own, creating its own momentum. Be sensitive to the life that’s flourishing there; give it the opportunity to live and breathe, to enable the story and its players to move forward and forge new paths driven by the fictive world and beings you’ve put in place. If you allow that mysterious process to reveal its own special truth it may transport you to unexpected places and reveal to you a story even more compelling and true than the one you initially envisioned, surprising you and, more importantly, your readers. And you may find you don’t need those alien weasels.

Want more? Check out Plot Versus Character:

Plot Versus Character is a hands-on guide to creating a well-rounded novel that embraces both of these crucial story components. In this book, you’ll learn to:

How to create a credible villain in fiction

—Create layered characters by considering personality traits, natural attributes, and backgrounds
—Develop your character’s emotional journey and tie it to your plot’s inciting incident
—Construct a three-act story structure that can complement and sustain your character arc
—Expose character backstory in a manner that accentuates plot points
—Seamlessly intertwine plot and character to create a compelling page-turner filled with characters to whom readers can’t help but relate
—And much more

How to create a credible villain in fiction

Believable characters can make a lasting impact to readers and make a story much better. Unless your characters are believable and relatable, your audience will not find your work interesting. So how do you actually breathe life into your fictional characters? Here are some tips in creating believable characters.

  1. Observe different people.

By observing different kinds of people, you will have some ideas for the personalities and traits that you can integrate into your character. Take note of how people speak, behave, do their mannerisms, stutter, express themselves, and what verbal fillers they use. From these observations, you can choose which ones to incorporate—in short, imitate real people to make your characters seem real.

  1. Play with their personalities and characteristics.

If you want to make your characters realistic, you should never categorize them into purely “black” or “white”. By this I mean you should not make your protagonists all good, and your antagonists absolutely evil. Make them multidimensional—add layers into their personality. This is what will make them more appealing and bring a significant impact to your audience.

Play with their personalities—make them complex individuals and even add what seems like contradictions. For instance, your evil antagonist who beats the crap out of people and can kill mercilessly is extremely affectionate with animals.

On the other hand, your main protagonists must also have weaknesses and faults. Let them fail and allow the villains to win occasionally. This will stir up your readers’ minds and emotions. Moreover, this will also make your story less predictable and much more interesting.

  1. Establish individuality.

Just like in real life, people are different from one another. With this, if you want to make your characters realistic and recognizable, establish individuality and uniqueness. This will make your characters more alive.

Make sure that they are very different from one another—they have distinct voices, varying points of view, as well as beliefs and principles. For example, if one of your characters is a crackhead teenager and another one is a respected middle-aged professor, but the two thinks the same and have the same manner of speaking, you are definitely doing it wrong. If necessary, don’t hesitate to make multiple revisions to ensure this.

Making your characters believable and interesting may seem like a challenging task at first. However, by performing the strategies I shared in this article, you will surely be able to do this much easier and more effectively. Always keep in mind that no matter how awesome your idea for your plot is, you won’t be able to execute it properly without great characters. Furthermore, your readers won’t stay interested if the characters are not multidimensional and believable.

Information. Resources. Support. Advice.

Creating believable characters is very important. Your reader has to totally believe that your characters are real genuine people.

You want your reader to feel like I did after reading Daughter of Lir by Diana Norman. It was set in real places, and the first time I went to one of those places, I found myself thinking, Ah, so this is where Slaney sailed away from Ireland, before shaking myself and reminding myself that it was fiction!

If your reader feels like that, then you have absolutely succeeded in creating believable characters.

Now, the reader herself is part of the process – she willingly chooses to believe in these people, even though she knows deep down that they’re not real.

But it’s our job as the writer to fulfil our half of the bargain and make it easy for the reader to do her bit.

So, how do you go about creating believable characters?

First of all, bear in mind that creating believable characters doesn’t, funnily enough, necessarily mean creating realistic characters.

People read stories, in part, because of how they’re so different from real life. Stories are more logical than real life. They have happy endings – or, at the very least, they have satisfying endings – in stark contrast to real life, which often has no proper endings at all, least of all satisfying or happy ones.

What we like about stories is that they’re about real life with the messy bits tidied up. And that includes the characters, because in real life, people are often inconsistent and arbitrary. They do things for no obvious reason – sometimes they don’t even know themselves why they’re doing them.

But readers would have no patience whatsoever with such characters. Fictional characters have to behave consistently and logically. This doesn’t mean that they cannot do stupid things, or illogical things, or ill-advised things. They can, and frequently do! But they should do those things for consistent and logical reasons.

Let’s take an absurd example – the cliché of the heroine who goes into the spooky attic. That has become a cliché simply because it’s such a stupid thing to do. (And as such, it’s less-than-satisfying for the reader.)

But if, for the sake of your plot , you need her to go into the attic, then you have a number of options. Either give her a compelling reason (see The Crucible for more on this), or make it part of her personality – part of her character so to speak. Maybe she’s courageous to excess, or maybe she’s stubborn and needs to prove something, or maybe she’s curious – again, to excess. Whatever it is, it is essential that that you have shown examples of this before, as foreshadowing .

The second rule to creating believing characters is to avoid extremes. In other words, don’t have a protagonist who’s 100% good, or an antagonist who’s 100% bad. They would be caricatures, not characters, and that is definitely not conducive towards creating believable characters.

Having said that, the third rule for writing characters is to make them slightly, but not absurdly, more than ordinary people . This is back to what we were saying about being believable but not realistic. Readers don’t want to read about ordinary people – they have enough of those in their real lives.

So, make your heroine a little bit more witty, a little bit more sparkling. If she’s ditzy, make her a little bit more ditzy than the average ditz.

Check out the list of character traits for a whole shopping list of characteristics you can use to create dynamic characterization. And check out the page on Character Sketches for information on practising creating characters. And finally, the Character Personality Chart will help you create your very own believable character.

By Mervyn Love | Submitted On April 05, 2010

Believable characters are what every reader of creative fiction wants and needs to read about. They love getting involved with who and what the person is, and often they want to identify and sympathise with the character. Our job, as writers, is to fulfill that need. Developing such a character can be done quickly and easily with a few simple methods.

The secret to developing a believable character revolves around those idiosyncracies which all of us have in one way or another. Sometimes they are quite noticeable, but often they are more subtle and can slip past us until we really try to spot them. Giving your character one or more of these quirks will bring believability to them because readers will think to them selves, “Aunt Emma used to do that,” or “Young Jake down the road is always doing that”. Making these connections in a reader’s mind makes your character more real simply by association with someone who really is real!

Don’t give your characters idiosyncracies just for the fun of it (and it can be fun), but rather make them relevant to the storyline in some way.

So what sort of idiosyncrasy am I talking about? There are many of them, but I’ll give you a few examples to get you started.

Do you know someone who has a card index mind for people’s birthdays, anniversaries, or even deaths, and loves sending cards or texts of congratulations. (Well, maybe not for the deaths!) Think of ways that this obsession could have a bearing on the story. Maybe they sent wedding anniversary cards to two couples, but put them in the wrong envelopes. What trouble could that cause? What if they saw an obituary of a distant acquaintance and sent a card of condolence only to find that it was not really the friend just someone with the same name?

Imagine someone who loves to use long or obscure words. What would happen if someone else who is less educated misunderstands what the character means and acts upon it?

We all know people who laugh at their own jokes. What if a character tells a joke about another character and laughs, but the one hearing the joke has a high regard/love/admiration for the one who is the butt of the joke and quietly takes exception to them being laughed at. What recourse or revenge might the hearer take against the joker?

A few more obvious ones now, such as someone who: is hopeless at keeping secrets; folds corners of books over; never talks about his past; is always reminded of a story and he just has to tell it. There are many more.

Are you getting the idea? A good way of building an arsenal of character quirks is to observe people you meet or are acquainted with. Once you know what to look for you can soon gather quite a collection!

Are your characters heading for a fictional split? If you are writing a book, we’ve put together a post on 9 ways to set up believable fictional breakups.

Have you ever watched a film or read a book where the storyteller fails to break up a relationship convincingly? I think it happens all the time. It’s as if the author or screenwriter knows they need conflict, or something to happen, and they choose a relationship failure to do it.

This usually happens when the relationship is not central to the plot. It is normally a sub-plot, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it poorly.

The badly written breakup is often done in one scene with very little build-up in the plot. It makes me distrust the author and everything that’s happened in the book.

So how can a writer end a relationship in a believable way?

The best way to do this is to set up a relationship that could plausibly fail. This relationship usually involves the protagonist and the love interest.

It doesn’t have to be obvious, but it should be there – in the dialogue, the body language, the interior thoughts. It should be filtered in from the beginning of the book so that it does not come as a complete shock. It should not feel contrived.

9 Ways To Set Up Believable Fictional Breakups

1. Use the rescuer-rescued relationship

People in healthy relationships can save each other from mistakes and provide comfort when things go wrong. The problem begins when one person is always the saviour and the other is being saved. The rescuer will see the other person as needy and helpless. The rescued person will either enjoy being ‘looked after’ or he or she may begin to feel inferior.

To set it up: Use pressure to put this relationship to the test. When the saviour is needed somewhere else, the other character may feel abandoned. Or the ‘saved person’ could fight back against the over-protective behaviour.

2. Use the avoidance of difficult issues

Most of us would prefer not to deal with difficult issues, and we can get away with it for a while. However, actively avoiding dealing with them will put a relationship under severe strain.

To set it up: When tensions are running high, the issues will surface and it won’t be pretty.

3. Use the changer

People who are always trying to change each other cannot be happy. You know who they are. They say things like ‘Why can’t you be more like __________?’ or ‘If you weren’t always _________, we would be happy’. They are always living in that impossibly perfect future moment.

To set it up: Put them in situations where it becomes clear that their fantasies are just that. Show that the person is never going to change and has no desire to change.

4. Use the family

One of the partners may be too attached to or too distant from family members. This can be used as a believable way of building up tension. If somebody asks a partner to constantly choose them over other family or if somebody shows absolutely no interest in a partner’s family, there will be problems.

To set it up: Use family gatherings to highlight tensions. Allow one character to tell the other how his or her father would solve a problem. Interrupt an important conversation with a phone call from the family.

5. Use tensions over money

The ways people save, earn, and spend money are brilliant pressure points. How much they earn is also a good way to set up conflict. Both partners should feel valued and equal in the relationship. They should both have a say in the way money is spent.

To set it up: Show how the one person uses money to control the other person or make them feel worthless.

6. Use an ex

People who still think about their previous partners or spend too much time with them – on the phone or in person – are doomed to fail in the present relationship.

To set it up: Let the character use the ex-partner as an excuse to avoid the new partner. When the pressure mounts, this will be a contributing factor to the breakup.

7. Use friends

If your friends don’t like your partner, trouble is brewing. Most people’s friends genuinely care about them and they have valid reasons for their dislike. Sometimes, they simply feel threatened by change. Whatever the reason for the conflict, it creates an unhappy relationship.

To set it up: Make it difficult to plan social events. Let the character spend more time with these friends. Watch the fireworks.

8. Use sex

Everything seems okay on the surface, but the intimacy is non-existent. In a healthy relationship, people work on keeping their sex lives interesting and healthy. In a bad relationship, this falls apart. Alternatively, the relationship could be based only on sex. This makes it difficult for the relationship to work on an everyday level.

To set it up: Contrast the couple with a happy, balanced relationship. Show them what they’re missing.

9. Use an age difference

If you need to have a relationship break up relatively simply, allow the people to outgrow each other. The younger person may want different things to the older person and vice versa.

To set it up: Put the couple in new situations where they encounter people who are not used to the age difference.

[TOP TIP: Use our Character Creation Kit to help you create great characters for your stories.]

10 Ways To Build The Tension

  1. Allow small things about the other person to annoy your character.
  2. Let the character feel as if they are walking on eggshells around their partner.
  3. Allow them to argue about morals, ethics, politics, animals, religion. Things that may have seemed abstract or tolerable in the past become important.
  4. Let jealousy slip into everything.
  5. Allow a lack of empathy for the other to set in.
  6. Let the characters stop treating each other as friends.
  7. Make sure that certain subjects are off limits.
  8. Show a lack of respect. They could call each other names or mock each other.
  9. Use body language. Examples: eye rolling when the partner is speaking, crossing arms, or turning your back.
  10. Use silence.

Use these nine ways to set up believable fictional breakups. Even if a relationship is not the most important part of your book, it will be believable when it ends.

How to create a credible villain in fiction by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

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How to create a credible villain in fiction

Note: this post has been updated on June 15, 2015.

Who among us didn’t weep over Dobby in Harry Potter? Did you fall in love with Noah and Allie in the Notebook? Have you ever loved a character so much that they became a friend that you revisited over and over again? As a novelist, creating believable characters who leap off the page is imperative.

So how do we do this? Well, I’m glad you asked. (Okay, you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway.)

Remember when J.K. Rowling shocked the world by revealing Dumbledore’s sexuality? There was no mention of it (allusion can be argued), but yet, this was the truth. Knowing your characters beyond their books is important. If they aren’t real to you, how can they be real to a reader?

No, I don’t just mean romantic love. Any kind of love. Think Katniss and Prim. Think Sirius and Harry. If you show us a character’s love, we’ll not only believe it, but feel it too. Here are a few examples to think about:

  1. Familial love. The self-sacrificing parent. The overprotective sibling. Everyone loves a good family bond.
  2. Romantic love. Unrequited, broken, first, on-again, off-again. We can’t help but root for a good love story. (Hint, hint: These Are the Moments.)
  3. Love of cause. The fighter. The rebel. The activist. Readers love passionate characters.

Learn from the people around you. Observe the details: the flaws, the strengths, and the quirks. Avoid perfect, cut-out characters by incorporating qualities that are true to life. In this way, your characters and the worlds you created will feel that much more realistic to us.

These are the big three.

  1. Goals. These are what propel characters through the story. Goals can change, fail, succeed, but every character has a path.
  2. Wants. A little different than goals, because they may not be the purpose of the plot. This is where love interests tend to fall.
  3. Fears. How do these affect the goals and wants? How do they trip your character up through the story?

You know your characters. You know the way they act and why they act that way. Trust yourself and trust your characters. Because our characters are human (well, mostly!), they aren’t always rational. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to act out of character. And that’s ok.

If you’re interested in more tips on characterization, I highly recommend The Essential Guide to Character Creation by She’s Novel:

How to create a credible villain in fiction

  • What Are Character Traits?
  • Kinds Of Character Traits
  • Building Characters
  • Take The Quiz

Characters are arguably the most important part of any fictional work. Whether in a book, television show, or movie, characters are the ones audiences identify with and the vehicles for telling the entire story. But how do you go about creating characters that people will love, fear, want to know more about, and find utterly unforgettable?

It all begins with a character’s traits. Character traits are the essential building blocks of every character in a story, and choosing the right traits can help establish unique identities that will engage your audience from start to finish. Here’s what you need to know about writing great characters, the unique words you need to describe those characters, and how to get started on creating your own complex characters from scratch.

What are character traits?

When you meet a new person, you often learn about them by observing their traits. A trait is “a distinguishing characteristic or quality, especially of one’s personal nature.” The characters in stories have traits as well.

A character trait is a literary term for adjectives and descriptions that writers use to add personality and depth to characters. In fictional stories, character traits serve a number of purposes, including:

  • Helping readers connect and identify with a character.
  • Providing insight into a character’s motivations.
  • Making it easier to differentiate between two characters.
  • Solidifying a character’s role, such as villain or hero, in the story.
  • Adding complexity to each character.

Character traits may be internal or external. External traits are things another person might notice, like how someone looks, their particular accent when speaking, or how they carry themselves. Internal traits have more to do with what’s going on inside a character’s mind. They are the emotional elements, private thoughts, and actions that make up a character’s personality.

The many different kinds of character traits

When it comes to deciding on traits for your own characters, there are no rules. Just like no two people on earth are exactly alike, no two characters in a story will ever be exactly alike. Let’s check out some words you might use when describing your own characters’ one-of-a-kind traits.

Personality

  • charming
  • stoic
  • approachable
  • reclusive
  • ambitious
  • impulsive
  • demanding
  • poised
  • distrustful
  • even-tempered

Physical attributes

  • lanky
  • energetic
  • petite
  • elegant
  • curvaceous
  • rugged
  • stately
  • graceful
  • fumbling
  • brawny

Beliefs and morals

  • philosophical
  • judicious
  • greedy
  • pious
  • deceptive
  • spiritual
  • altruistic
  • haughty
  • stingy
  • revolutionary

Classic hero traits

  • courageous
  • adventurous
  • honorable
  • sincere
  • visionary
  • persistent
  • humble
  • reliable
  • honest
  • noble

Classic villain traits

  • envious
  • demonic
  • unscrupulous
  • furtive
  • mischievous
  • deceitful
  • brutal
  • powerful
  • wounded
  • resourceful

Building characters

Now that you’re armed with a great character vocabulary, let’s learn a little more about how to build characters.

Option one: Start with the character

One method of character building is to begin with an idea of your character’s role or defining trait and build from there. For example: a queen.

Ask yourself questions about your character’s motivations and the way others see them.

  • What does the queen look like?
  • How did the queen ascend to power?
  • Do people like this character? Why or why not?
  • What is someone’s first impression of this character?
  • What is this character afraid of?
  • What does this character want more than anything?

As you answer questions about your character, their physical appearance, beliefs, personality and motivations will begin to emerge. The next step is to write them into a scene and see how these qualities impact their actions and interactions.

Option two: Start with traits

On the writing podcast Death of 1000 Cuts, author Tim Clare frequently uses timers and lists to flesh out ideas for everything from characters to story locations to plot points. The idea is to let the creative flow and avoid overthinking things.

Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and making a list of interesting traits a character might possess. These might include physical attributes, personality quirks, preferences, and strengths and weaknesses, like:

  • smart
  • anxious
  • curly hair
  • wears a lot of purple
  • loves video games
  • hates chocolate
  • lives in outer space
  • holds grudges
  • ambitious

Once time has lapsed, look at your list and start to dig into the traits you wrote down. Circle 8–10 character traits and begin to flesh them out. How do these traits work together? How did your character come to possess these traits?

As you begin to write your characters into scenes, their traits will solidify and you will get to know them better. Before you know it, they will feel real, and the traits you spent time cultivating will help drive the rest of your story.

Take the quiz

Is dedication to learning one of your traits? You can make it one by revisiting these traits as often as you need them with our dedicated word lists on personality traits, physical attributes, beliefs and morals traits, classic hero traits, and classic villain traits. We also have a short quiz to test your knowledge on character traits in general.

The narrative voice is a key aspect of any work of fiction. But what is narrative voice? And what does it mean to have an unreliable narrator? In this post, we explain the basics of reliable and unreliable narrative voices.

What Is Narrative Voice?

The term “narrative voice” refers to the perspective from which a story is told (i.e., the character or person telling a story). This can affect how the reader relates to the narrator, other characters, and the story as a whole.

Various things influence how narrative voice works, including:

  • The grammatical person (e.g., first person or third person).
  • Whether the voice is limited (i.e., the story is told from a specific point of view, so the reader only knows what the narrator knows) or omniscient (i.e., where the narrator knows everything in the world of the story).
  • Whether it is reliable (i.e., a story in which the narrator presents a straightforward, credible account of events) or unreliable (i.e., a story in which we might not entirely trust what the narrator is telling us).

It is the last of these that interests us most here. As such, we will now look at unreliable narrative voices in more detail, including how they work and when you might want to use one in your own writing.

Unreliable Narrative Voices

We call a narrative voice “unreliable” if it seems untrustworthy because the narrator is dishonest, misinformed, or even deluded. This is most common with limited, first-person narrators (e.g., when the story is told from one character’s point of view and reflects their limited understanding or biases).

The narrator’s unreliability might be obvious from the start (e.g., if they make obviously untrue statements early on). Alternatively, it could slowly become apparent as the story progresses (e.g., if the narrator introduces subtle inconsistencies). Or it could be revealed dramatically in a plot twist.

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One of the most famous examples of an unreliable narrator in fiction is Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator of J.D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye. Throughout the novel, he accuses many people of being “phony.” But as the story goes on, the reader finds out that he is not always trustworthy. He even admits he is a liar, prone to exaggeration, and frequently confused about details of his story. His “unreliability” as a narrator is therefore a key element of his character and the themes of the novel.

Other famous unreliable narrators include:

  • Humbert Humbert from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, in which the narrator tries to appear sympathetic rather than abusive.
  • Adrian Healey from The Liar by Stephen Fry, in which the narrator eventually reveals that many of the events described are entirely untrue.
  • Amy and Nick from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, who set out different versions of the same events throughout the story.

When to Use an Unreliable Narrator

You can use an unreliable narrator for various ends, including to:

  • Create tension and make the reader question what they are being told.
  • Give the reader insight into how the narrator views the world.
  • Influence who the reader sympathizes with in the story.
  • Set up a mystery or plot twist based on the narrator’s unreliability.

However you use it, though, unreliable narrative voices are a powerful tool in the writer’s kit. And if you’d like help with or feedback on any aspect of your writing, our expert editors are available 24/7.

Psst . . . Don’t forget about March’s contest to win free books and more! Check it out here.

(This is a repost of one my most popular blog posts, which I summarized 6 Tips at the bottom .)

One thing that can come out as so cliché is when a character overhears a conversation. BUT, disagrees one avid write, IT IS SO IMPORTANT! MY PROTAGONIST HAS TO OVERHEAR THIS CONVERSATION SO THE READER KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON!

Right?How to create a credible villain in fiction

Okay, so I agree there is a time and place. I’ve even noticed a few times when this is done really well and doesn’t come off as cliché. Let’s look at 3 examples.

Castle

At the end of one of this season’s episode, Beckett overhears a conversation. She hears Castle breaking up with his girlfriend / ex-wife / publisher / we’re not sure what to title her. See the short clip here.

Why does this work?

[1] Castle leaves to a (somewhat) private area to have this conversation, and Beckett just happens to walk in on him. Though with the look on her face, she may or may not be following him on purpose. [2] Beckett walks in at the right moment. She hears ONE SENTENCE before she turns around to leave.

No . . . no . . . what I’m saying is . . . it’s over.

How to create a credible villain in fiction

[3] The conversation changes the character’s actions/reaction : Castle doesn’t know that Beckett knows, though this information will very much go public very fast and Beckett would know anyway. So why is it important that she overheard this conversation? Ignore the fact that now the viewer knows Castle is FREE, and look at Beckett’s (fantastic) face above. Because Beckett overheard this conversation, she then reacts differently than she might have, had she not know the situation. And don’t we just love the outcome?

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

In many of the books, Harry is injured and wakes up in the hospital. The people around him are talking, and he hears the conversation. There are also other times when Harry overhears a conversation.

This works because

[1] Short and to the point: If it is an important conversation Harry shouldn’t hear, the conversation is short and to the point. If he can hear it, then he is awake and there is a group of people all so involved in the conversation they don’t notice Harry has woken up yet. How to create a credible villain in fiction[2] The speaker realizes someone is listening in: Harry almost always makes himself known to be overhearing the conversation, or in other instances, one of the persons is aware that Harry is there and listening. [3] They MAKE it happen: In Book 4, Harry drops his book and kneels down to get it to overhear what Karkeroff is saying to Snape. So he takes action to overhear a SHORT conversation, and is then caught for his action.

The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

Sally Lockhart sneaks out of bed at night to explore the basement, where something is hidden, and overhears important things said between two of the villains. They have quite a long conversation that Sally overhears, and helps the reader put the clues into place. But it works because [1] she’s someplace she shouldn’t be where the villains feel safe to talk openly. [2] She’s hidden, and there’s added tension that she’ll be discovered and can’t escape.How to create a credible villain in fiction

Here’s the Recap: 6 Tips to give credibility to the overheard conversation

Why do we need it? To give information to the reader and the characters.

[1] Genuine coincidence or make it happen: Either someone happens to come upon the conversation, the person is where they shouldn’t be in the first place, or the character does something to make sure they overhear the conversation.

[2] Short and to the point: If you are braving an overheard conversation, then most of the time it should be short and to the point. Exceptions: unless your character is amazing. In one spectacular novel, the character is a thief who is trained in the art of stealth. He spies on people and makes sure he is in the proper place at the right time to hear what he needs. This means he knows about the secret area in a room that just happens to be where two people are holding their conversation, and he’s there in advance.

[3] Timing: The person walks in at the right moment. And it’s just a moment, so they only hear a few sentences.

[4] Have the speaker realize someone is eavesdropping. This always buys credibility if the protagonist happens to be caught, though again it has to be done believably.

[5] Have the character miss parts of the conversation. The character’s positioning might make it so they don’t hear certain things, or only hear enough that they have to guess at the correct meaning of the conversation. And it’s even better if that guess is wrong!

[6] Make sure you add the tension. Overhearing any conversation can add tension. Whether it’s a fight between a couple in a restaurant, or your two best friends gossiping about you. The trick to any of these situations is that YOU DON’T WANT TO BE DISCOVERED. Either because you want to hear more, or you will be in trouble (or danger) if you’re discovered. Make that count!

So how do you feel about the overheard conversation? Are there other books or movies you think it works in? And does YOUR book have an overheard conversation in it?

How to create a credible villain in fiction

How to create a credible villain in fiction

Recent polling estimates that 4.5% of people in the United States identify as LGBT. Compare that to the number of queer protagonists in published novels, young adult or otherwise, and there’s an unfortunate gap.

Many authors, straight or queer, have decided to tackle this problem by including more LGBT characters in their stories and novels. I happen to think this is a lofty goal, especially considering the influence that reading about another queer person can have on young LGBTQ people who are feeling isolated and alone. For queer authors I say – go forth and conquer! Write about our lives and experiences, our friends and chosen family, and all of our most hilarious cultural inside jokes. For straight authors I say – consider these four rules first.

ONE: Consider your personal experience.

If you’ve never had a close relationship with an LGBTQ person, you should probably reconsider writing an LGBTQ character altogether.

No, I’m not being the P.C. Police – and sure, you absolutely can write about whoever and whatever you’d like – but if you want it to be believable and to resonate with queer and straight readers alike, starting from a place of total ignorance means this is unlikely to happen, no matter how many of the other rules you follow.

TWO: Do your research.

Just as you might, say, need to figure out what the day-to-day is like for a gardener, or a beekeeper, or a preschool teacher in order to build a character within that profession, you need to do your research about what daily life looks like for a queer person.

As a writer, you probably already have your go-to systems for doing research for stories or novels. Make sure you’re consuming lots of different kinds of media – fiction and nonfiction, film, podcasts, social media, etc. – to get a full picture.

Ideally, you should focus mainly on media produced by queer people rather than straight people. Some of my favorites are Curve Magazine, the Making Gay History podcast, and anything created by Carmen Maria Machado or Lena Waithe, but don’t take my word for it: do your own research and explore what’s out there! You can also do interviews with a wide variety of people to avoid falling back on stereotypes (see rule three) and to fill in the gaps.

Another good place to start is to learn what LGBTQIAA stands for and understand how the different identities inform people’s lives, as well as how these identities intersect with other identities related to gender, race, immigration status, class, etc.

THREE: Avoid the literary tropes associated with LGBT characters.

When it comes to literature, representation matters–but certainly isn’t everything, especially when that representation relies on worn-out stereotypes, as is often the case with queer characters.

You probably know some of these well: the gay best friend, the depraved and murderous bisexual, the lesbian couple whose only story is having or wanting kids, the closeted male athlete, the transgender sex worker.

Beyond these stereotypes, you should also avoid certain ways of using queer characters to further your plot. Don’t use being gay or trans as a plot twist for a straight protagonist. Don’t center your whole story around a character coming out — or make that the single most important event in their lives. And don’t kill off your one queer character unless you want the rage of the queer fandom to come down on you!

All of this is not to say that queer people don’t fit into any stereotypes or haven’t experienced one of these events, but these stories have been told (and told and retold) – and usually by straight writers. If all you think of when you think of queer characters is writing someone into one of these stereotypes, your task is to go back to rule two (and maybe rule one) and get back to work. When the only stories available follow the same tropes, there are so many voices and experiences that are left in the shadows.

FOUR: All the other rules of characterization apply.

Having an LGBT character doesn’t automatically give them a certain personality (see rule three) – which means you need to do your due diligence of characterization, just as you would for any other character. If you rely on their queerness to define them completely, you’ll end up with an extremely flat, boring, and unrealistic character.

Now go create your own LGBT characters!

Of course, you already know that writing is an art, not a science – there is no formula or set of rules that will be able to perfectly articulate how to write a believable queer character. Hopefully, with these guidelines, you’ll have a place to start that allows you to put your own creative, literary spin on things, and to contribute to the canon of beloved queer characters.

by Andrew Noakes

In this guide, we explain how to write historical fiction in 10 steps, breaking the process down into bitesize chunks to help you get started on your journey.

Writing historical fiction can be challenging, even for a seasoned writer. You have the usual things to worry about – planning, plotting, structure, character development, etc. – but on top of that, you also have to grapple with the in-depth research and get to grips with the key considerations around historical accuracy and authenticity.

For a newcomer, it can seem a bit daunting. But it needn’t be. If you follow these 10 steps, you’ll be ready to get started in no time.

Step 1: Develop your story concept

One of the great things about writing historical fiction is that history is a wonderful source of inspiration. There are a few different approaches you can take to utilising it:

1) Tell a fictionalised (but accurate) version of a true story. This includes biographical historical fiction, where the focus is on telling the story of someone’s life. The aim here is to explore the real events and characters of history with careful attention to accuracy. Of course, all or at least most of the dialogue will be fictional, and you may not know every detail of what happened, but the key is to create a story that accurately reflects what really happened as much as possible.

2) Tell a true story with some creative license. This doesn’t mean you can blatantly fabricate and falsify key elements of history, but it does mean you can draw on gaps in the historical record, subtext, and rumours in a way that a historian couldn’t. Just be honest with your reader in your historical note.

3) Use real events as the backdrop for your mostly fictional story. The aim here is slightly different. Yes, you’re basing the backdrop of your story on what really happened, but your core story is almost entirely fictional and will usually focus more on characters who are made up than renderings of real-life figures (though that’s not to say the story can’t have any real-life figures – it certainly can).

4) Use a true story as the inspiration for your fictional story. If you want to draw on the details of real events and people, but you feel your creative juices taking the story too far away from the real history, you might consider using history as inspiration for your story, rather than making it the story itself. This could involve basing a fictional character on a real person, for example, or taking inspiration from an interesting historical episode and replicating elements of it in your story. Just be careful to avoid basing your characters on people who are still living (for obvious legal reasons).

Step 2: Start your research

As the concept begins to take shape in your mind, it’s best to start learning more about your period and the key events and figures that might feature in your story.

Your first steps should be to figure out what you need to know and compile a list of resources that can help you attain that knowledge. Our 50+ top online research resources for historical fiction writers is a good place to start. Make sure to download your copy below.

Conflict is a key ingredient of an engrossing story. ‘Internal conflict’ and ‘external conflict’ are two terms you’ll often hear when people discuss character creation. Read definitions of these types of story conflict, then how to use them to develop your story:

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Conflict is a key ingredient of an engrossing story. ‘Internal conflict’ and ‘external conflict’ are two terms you’ll often hear when people discuss character creation. Read definitions of these types of story conflict, then how to use them to develop your story:

Internal conflict vs external conflict: Definitions

In fiction, ‘internal conflict’ refers to a character’s internal struggle.

A character might struggle with an emotional problem such as fear of intimacy or abandonment, for example. Internal conflict is important for characterization, since flaws and internal struggles make characters more lifelike and sympathetic.

External conflict, on the other hand, refers to the conflicts between a character and external forces.

This type of conflict can be between one character and another or a group (or between groups of characters). It can also be between a character and more abstract forces. For example, a bleak and hostile environment in a post-apocalyptic novel.

Both types of conflict, internal and external, are useful because they create:

  • Tension: Because of conflict’s uncertainty, we want to know how it resolves and keep turning pages to find out
  • Stakes: Conflict suggests worst-case outcomes and makes resolution urgent (the hero must overcome the antagonist/environment or themselves ‘or else…’)
  • Character development: Conflict allows for dramatic incidents and confrontations that test characters and cause them to learn and adapt

So how do you use external and internal conflict to develop characters?

1: Make both types of conflict obstacles

Accomplished authors use both external and internal conflict to give their characters serious obstacles to reaching their goals.

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings cycle Frodo and his co-travelers must face external conflicts as well as internal ones. They encounter hostile creatures such as orcs and wargs, impassable terrain, alongside their own fears and weaknesses.

Frodo’s friend and sidekick Sam is initially fearful of their quest. Over the course of the story cycle, Sam gains courage as they progress towards Mordor. We see Sam’s internal conflict, and then we see how external conflicts pit him against his internal struggle, forcing him to grow.

In a romance novel, conflicts keep characters apart or throw existing relationships in jeopardy. Take Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, for example. Allie’s snobbish and disapproving mother is a source of external conflict that delays the lovers’ reunion after their first romantic encounters.

Sparks adds poignant internal conflict to this external source. His aging protagonists battle with medical conditions that place obstacles in their relationship. Even once the characters overcome primary external conflicts, internal conflict (in this instance, self vs mind and body) remains.

[For more of our top posts on character goals and motivations, see our character writing hub.]

2: Plan how external and internal conflicts affect each other

Dividing conflict into ‘internal’ vs ‘external’ can be misleading, since the two are linked. For example, in a romance, a character who fears abandonment might be clingy towards their lover. This in turn might create external conflict when the other character feels smothered. Plan how these internal and external conflicts feed into each other.

For example, picture a character who is independent and hates asking for help. How would this complicate their survival in an environmental disaster? Will they need to learn to rely more on others and ask for help? This is an example of how external conflict can be a crucible for character development. External conflicts can pit characters against their own internal conflicts, forcing them to renegotiate their beliefs and priorities.

Develop your story outline online

Develop your story outline in easy steps and get help when you need it.

How to create a credible villain in fiction

3: Give characters opposing internal conflicts

Opposing internal conflicts between characters may build confrontation and drama, but also attraction. For example, a messy character who struggles to not be chaotic might annoy a ‘neat freak’ who is obsessive about order. Yet the same neat character could find this trait intriguing. Differences that spark conflict are also the differences that attract people to one another.

In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, Kate Winslet’s character Clementine is a flighty and impulsive extrovert. Jim Carrey’s character Joel, whom she meets on a train, is a melancholic introvert by contrast.

Initially, Clementine is attracted to Joel and enjoys teasing him about his intensity and seriousness. But over time, each character’s internal conflict – Clementine’s fear of boredom and stasis and Joel’s fear of unpredictability – become sources of mutual frustration and hostility.

Through giving each character an opposing internal conflict that contains the seed for conflict, Charlie Kaufman (the scriptwriter) creates a development arc for each primary character that feels believable, even inevitable.

Develop your story outline online and find character conflicts using th Now Novel dashboard.

4: Use multiple, related internal and external conflicts

A character doesn’t have to only have one internal conflict over the course of your entire novel. Take, for example, a character who struggles to be in a relationship because they struggle with anxiety and self-doubt. What new internal conflicts might arise if they discover new-found confidence?

Perhaps they are not used to having the confidence to actively choose or leave their significant other. This in turn creates anxiety about whether or not they’ve made the ‘right’ choice. One internal conflict resolving can thus leave space for a new one to arise.

How to create a credible villain in fiction

5: Plan character arcs alongside internal and external conflicts

Credible characters are human like us. One of the reasons Greek mythology is potent (and narrative epics like Homer’s Odyssey are still read and taught) is because the Greek Gods are just like people. Like ordinary mortals, they’re prone to love, jealousy, conflict and error.

When creating a character for your novel, create a cheat sheet for internal and external conflicts they will grapple with. For example, this could be a character conflict cheat sheet for Odysseus’s wife in Homer’s Odyssey:

Character name:Penelope
Who and where: Wife of Odysseus, awaits his return in Ithaca
Internal conflict: Doesn’t know if Odysseus is still alive and unsure whether or not to take his advice to remarry if he has not returned from war.
External conflict: She’s besieged by persistent suitors vying for her hand in marriage, forcing her to find ways to deter them until she receives word of Odysseus.

Get novel help and brainstorm believable conflicts, characters and themes .

What is mood in fiction? How do you create it? We explain mood, with examples, and give you 140 words to describe mood in fiction.

What Is Mood In Fiction?

How readers feel after reading a book or a short story, or after watching a film, is known as the mood in fiction.

Writers use tone to establish a mood in a work of fiction.

While tone is often said to be what the author feels, what the reader feels is known as the mood. This mood affects readers psychologically and emotionally.

We describe mood with adjectives like ‘light-hearted’, ‘nervous’, ‘foreboding’, optimistic’, and ‘peaceful’. (Please see the list of examples below.)

How Is A Mood Created?

There are basically five things that allow authors to create a mood:

  1. Setting: The way a setting is described greatly affects the mood. Authors often use foreshadowing in their descriptions. The use of motifs also creates a mood.
  2. Style : Our style is the way we use words to tell a story. The way we choose words, the way we structure sentences, and use tenses and figurative language describes our writing style.
  3. Viewpoint: Choosing first, second, or third person viewpoint will affect the mood of a work.
  4. Tone: Tone conveys an attitude towards a topic. It is expressed by our word choices, sentence lengths and use of punctuation. If we use a compassionate tone, our readers may feel sympathetic or empathetic. If we use a depressing tone, our readers will feel sad.
  5. Genre: The genre also affects the mood. A light-hearted romance should make you feel happy. A literary thriller should make you feel unsettled.

In 9 Literary Terms You Need To Know I said: ‘The author creates the mood through his or her style and tone. The way the author describes a setting is important to the atmosphere. The overarching feeling and atmosphere the reader experiences is the mood of the work.’

Obviously the mood created in a work of fiction can change through the course of the story.

Why Is Mood Important?

Mood is necessary for us to engage readers.

As Maya Angelou said: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

We need to make readers feel something when they read our books.

Examples Of Mood In Fiction

1. The Hobbit

In The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the author makes us feel safe and content. The mood is comforting and hopeful.

How did the author create this?

  1. Setting: He describes homely settings with comforting food.
  2. Style: His style is simple and descriptive.
  3. Tone: His tone is fatherly and parochial.
  4. Viewpoint: The viewpoint is third person, which is the most normal and accepted way of telling a story.
  5. Genre: The mood suits the genre, which is a fantasy adventure.

2. The Rebus Series

In the Rebus detective series by Ian Rankin, the author makes us feel uneasy and curious. There are times when we feel scared and even horrified. When a crime is solved, we feel relieved. The mood is suspenseful and melancholic.

How did the author create this?

  1. Setting: Edinburgh has become a character in the series. The gritty underbelly of the city is unsettling, unyielding, and secretive.
  2. Style: His style is spare and workmanlike.
  3. Tone: His tone is cynical, dispassionate, acerbic.
  4. Viewpoint: The viewpoint is third person.
  5. Genre: The mood suits the genre, which is police-procedural.

3. Bright Lights, Big City

In Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, the author makes us feel uncomfortable. The character is usually in an altered state and we feel alienated as he tries to keep moving at all costs. The mood is restless and uncomfortable.

How did the author create this?

  1. Setting: Manhattan is impersonal, superficial, and it is a fast-moving, which adds to the mood. We are taken to nightclubs, fashion shows, editorial offices, and loft parties – in a blur.
  2. Style: Using present tense forces the reader to witness the humiliations and defeats of the main character in uncomfortable, real-time.
  3. Tone: His tone is satirical, distant, and critical.
  4. Viewpoint: The viewpoint is second person. This choice is perfect for the drug-addicted character. The distancing effect of using ‘you’ allows the character to observe himself in an almost disinterested manner. This is uncomfortable to watch.
  5. Genre: The mood suits the genre, which is literary and unconventional.

Click here for more examples

140 Words To Describe Mood In Fiction

How to create a credible villain in fiction

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Nobody is perfect and neither are your characters. Our flaws make us human and flaws make your characters more human and more real. Author Stephen J. Cannell says, “The flaws in a character are always more interesting than the strengths.”

Many writers gather much of their material from their own lives (sometimes without realizing it). You already know some character flaws from living your life. You know your own weaknesses and you know the flaws of your friends and family members. You have seen people overcome their flaws and seen them fail. This life knowledge can be applied, adapted and modified for use in fiction. It can also be helpful to read up on personality flaws for inspiration and to get a deeper understanding of characterization.

A very basic 3-step look at character flaw arc in a story is this:

  1. Determine your character’s flaw or flaws
  2. Put your character into situations where these flaws will be exacerbated and stressed.
  3. Figure out how your character is able to overcome their flaws to better themselves or save the day.

Here are some resources to help get you started.

Character Flaws Resources


    Character Flaw Index – TV Tropes offer a huge character flaw index which descriptions and examples for each one.

Character Flaws List – Dark World RPG offers a solid collection of character flaws with descriptions. Writers should stretch, mold and twist these flaws. As Dark World RPG notes, “there are infinite depths to character flaws, and many ways to make such flaws unique for your character.”

Flaws as Strengths : Flaws can be strengthens in certain situations. A Lifehack article list ten personality flaws that can make you highly successful in the modern world.

The Seven Chief Features of Ego – descriptions of several main characters flaws or chief features and how they relate to each other.

Designing the Character – Author and TV producer Stephen J. Cannell explains that all of his TV heroes were flawed.

Flaws in Historical Figures – Boredom Therapy describes 20 historical figures that had flaws. They were known for their accomplishments but most had problems in their personal lives. Some were also hypocrites.

How to create a credible villain in fiction

Bible Character Flaws – Sermon Central lists twenty Bible heroes and their flaws or dysfunctions.

Character Flaw Exmaples – Wikipedia’s entry for “Character Flaw” provides examples from classic and popular literature, film and TV series of flawed characters. In some situations a character becomes a hero when they overcome or rise above a major flaw.

12 Fatal Flaws – Inc. magazine describes 12 major flaws that can derail leaders from succeeding in business. These flaws can be problematic in any situation and could assigned to a fictional character.

  • Six Types of Character Flaws – An article from Mythcreants describes six types of character flaws in detail and how they can impact a character. They include aversion, fear, addiction, immorality, poor judgement and incompetence.

  • ‘Ooo Ahh, my lover! I are just about to put another shrimp ont’ Barbie.’

    There is good dialogue and there is bad dialogue and, depending on which you are writing, it will make or break your story. Nothing engages a reader more than realistic dialogue and nothing disgruntles a reader more than a phrase that is contrived, clichéd and unnatural; it will pull a reader away from your lovingly crafted prose quicker than a flat character or a thin plot could ever do.

    It is not too much of a surprise, then, to discover that writing dialogue is one of the most challenging elements of fiction writing and one which takes time to master. The following list should help you through the minefield of dos and don’ts.

    Listen to how people talk

    This is the best way to learn about speech patterns and natural dialogue. People have many different methods of verbal expression which vary depending on who they are talking to, what they are talking about, their mood and their upbringing. Taking notes from real life will really improve the authenticity of your dialogue.

    Use dialogue to move the story forward

    Dialogue in fiction is an economical representation of the real thing. In addition to being realistic, it must be purposeful. Read your dialogue and ask whether it has a function. Does it establish tone or mood? Does it reveal anything about the plot or characters? Does it add to the relationship that the reader is building with the speaker? Does it add or create conflict? If it doesn’t have a purpose, delete it.

    Break up dialogue with action

    Breaking up the dialogue is especially useful when handling large sections of speech which a reader may find tedious. Including actions alongside dialogue also gives the reader a sense of the conversation taking place in the real world, which elevates the conversation above mere words on a page.

    Vary the use and placement of speech tags

    Speech tags indicate who is speaking and are essential in following dialogue (he/she said). Varying the use and placement of the tag will help the flow of the conversation and prevent the dialogue from becoming tedious. Place tags at the beginning, middle or end of speech. When experienced, a writer instinctively knows the most effective use of tags and when to leave them out completely.

    Give each character a distinct voice

    In theory, a reader should be able to read a line of speech and identify which character is saying it. There are many techniques for achieving this. You may give your character a distinct accent, use habitual phrases or mistakes which they tend to repeat or vary the speech patterns through the grammar. Paying attention to what a character will and will not talk about, their level of intelligence and sense of humour will also create the difference.

    Be aware of pace

    As with all elements of writing fiction, you are in control of the pace. In urgent situations, when you want to pick up the pace, leave out or limit narration and tags. To slow the pace and building suspense, use monologues and longer sections of narration.

    Read widely

    The best way to learn is to see how the masters do it. Read within your genre and note techniques that really work.

    Test your dialogue by reading aloud

    With dialogue, the ears are often a better judge than the eyes. Listen to the dialogue to hear the flow and notice the mistakes that interfere with it.

    Use dialogue to dump information

    This is where trust in your reader is essential. If you have done your job well, the reader will be able to follow the story as it slowly unfolds without a character speaking for the sole purpose of filling in a back story, reminding the reader of past details or over-explaining. Information dumps are unnatural, lazy and annoying. Don’t do it.

    Obsess about grammar

    People don’t obsess about grammar when they speak and you shouldn’t when you are writing speech. People speak in incomplete sentences, leave out words and interrupt each other. Relaxing the grammar can only help your dialogue to be more believable.

    Overdo Tags

    You may be tempted to replace ‘he/she said’ with ‘he roared, whimpered, gushed or barked’, but you will be in danger of drawing too much attention to the tag and away from the dialogue. When the dialogue is strong, simple tags will suffice and keep the reader engaged with what is really important. As stated earlier, use action to ground the reader in the reality of the conversation.

    Overuse slang, stereotypes and Ummms!

    Beware of overusing stereotypes and slang. These can distract or alienate your reader. They will also age your work. In real speech people take time to think about what they are saying and ‘Ummming’ and ‘Ahhhing’ is commonplace. Again, to keep the dialogue economical and interesting, use this sparingly.

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    How to create a credible villain in fiction

    Crafting characters that readers will connect to is every writer’s goal and dozens (hundreds?) of methods exist to achieve it: deep backstory planning, character profile sheets, questionnaires, etc.

    Regardless of the roadmap a writer uses, writing an authentic character boils down to one important action: intentionally drawing from the real world, and specifically, the human experience.

    The human experience is powerful, an emotional tidal wave that holds us in thrall. We understand it, relate to it, and live it. This is why, even when a character faces a challenge, barrier, or struggle that readers have not experienced in the real world, they can imagine it and place themselves within the folds of the character’s viewpoint.

    Portraying an accurate mirror of humanity in fiction means we must master emotions. Getting raw feelings on the page isn’t done solely through a character’s shrug or smile; instead, a marriage of internal and external elements should show readers what is being felt and why. Body language, behavior, dialogue, vocal cues, thoughts, and internal sensations weave together to draw readers into the character’s emotional landscape.

    Showing a character’s emotions isn’t always easy, especially when powerful emotions are at work. Characters may feel exposed or unsafe and instinctively try to repress or disguise what they feel. This creates a big challenge for writers: how do we show readers what the character is feeling when they are trying so hard to hide it?

    Thankfully again, the human experience comes to the rescue. If a character is repressing an emotion, real-world behaviors can show it. Readers will catch on because they’ll recognize their own attempts to hide their feelings. Here’s a few ideas.

    Over- and Underreactions

    When you’ve done the background work on a character, you know how they’ll react to ordinary stimuli and will be able to write reliable responses. Readers become familiar with the character’s emotional range and have an idea what to expect. So when the character responds to a situation in an unexpected way, it sends up an alert for readers that says, “Pay attention! This is important.”

    A character may fly off the handle at something that seems benign or behave subdued in a situation that should have them upset. When this happens, these unusual responses signal that something more is going on, and the reader is hooked, wanting to uncover the why behind this unexpected behavior.

    Tics and Tells

    No matter how adept a character is at hiding their feelings, they all have their own tells— subtle and unintentional mannerisms that hint at deception. As the author, you should know your characters intimately. Take a close look at them and figure out what might happen with their body when they’re being dishonest. It could be a physical signal or behavior, such as covering the mouth, spinning a wedding ring, or hiding the hands from view. Maybe it’s a vocal cue like throat-clearing. It might be a true tic, like a muscle twitch or excessive blinking. Figure out what makes sense for your character, then employ that tell when they’re hiding something. Readers will pick up on it and realize that, when it’s in play, everything is not as it seems.

    Fight, Flight, or Freeze Responses

    In the most general sense, the fight-flight-freeze response is the body’s physiological reaction to a real or perceived threat. We see this in everyday interactions: when a person invades someone’s space, stops what they’re doing mid-action, or literally flees the scene. It also happens on a smaller scale in our conversations. Remember that every character has a purpose for engaging with others. When that purpose is threatened, or the character feels unsafe, the fight-flight-freeze reflex kicks in.

    • Fight responses are confrontational in nature and may include the character turning toward an opponent to face them directly, squaring up her body to make herself look bigger, or insulting the person to put them on the offensive.
    • Characters who lean toward flight will have reactions centering around escape: changing the subject, disengaging from a conversation, or fabricating a reason to leave.
    • If the character’s fear or anxiety is triggered, they may simply freeze up, losing their ability to process the situation or find the words they need until something external happens to free them.

    Passive-Aggressive Reactions

    Passive aggression is a covert way of expressing anger. If a character is angry but doesn’t feel comfortable showing it, they’ll often default to certain techniques that will allow them to get back at the person without revealing how they really feel. By employing sarcasm, framing insults as jokes, giving backhanding compliments, and not saying what they really mean (We’re good or I’ll get right on that), characters are able to express their feelings in an underhanded way that others may not recognize or know how to deal with. This can be a tricky technique to use, because, by definition, passive aggression masks the truth. But you can reveal it through a character’s thoughts, the physical signals they exhibit in private (particularly just after an interaction), and the cues they express when the other person isn’t looking.

    Incongruencies

    The most common way to show hidden feelings is to highlight the incongruency that occurs when the character tries to mask one emotion by adopting the behavior of another. Imagine a character saying “Come in, I’d love for us to visit” but their body betrays the untruth of these words, perhaps through a strained voice, by closing of the door an inch rather than pulling it open wider in welcome, or by the keyring in their fist with the largest key thrusting out between two knuckles like a weapon.

    How to create a credible villain in fictionIf the reader is in the character’s POV, thoughts can also counterweight behavior or to provide context if the character is hiding true emotions out of fear. Incongruencies work well because all people use them to maintain the status quo in a relationship or stabilize a situation.

    Note from Jane: Want more help showing hidden emotion? Check out The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) with description ideas for over 130 different emotions (view the complete list), including suppressed responses.

    Also helpful: One Stop for Writers’ checklists on Showing Hidden Emotions, Expressing Emotions Through Body Language, and Show & Tell—free to download.

    Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Her bestselling writing guides are available in eight languages, and are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and used by writers around the world. She’s also one half of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, and co-founder of One Stop for Writers, a creativity portal loaded with one-of-a-kind tools, resources, and a Storyteller’s Roadmap that makes planning, writing, and revising a novel almost criminally easy.

    On the whole, I do my best to avoid books and movies with disabled characters in them. Of Mice and Men, Forrest Gump, and A Christmas Carol all make me cringe. Heretic? Hater of the disabled? The nerve. But I’ve thought about this a lot, because I love plays, books, and movies, and also because I’m disabled.

    Disabled characters are written into stories for one reason: the disability. Do most people actually believe real disabled people spend our days obsessing about being cured? Or rhapsodizing about killing ourselves? Here is the truth: Disabled people barely ever even think about our disabilities. When we do think about them, it’s usually because we are dealing with an oppressive, systemic problem, such as employment discrimination. Can’t there ever be a disabled character in a book or film just because? Where the topic doesn’t ever come up? All sorts of interesting stories can be written about a disabled character, without the disability ever being mentioned. You know, just like real people.

    The vast majority of writers who have used disabled characters in their work are not people with disabilities themselves. Because disabled people have been peripheral for centuries, we’ve been shut out of the artistic process since the beginning. As a result, the disabled characters we’re presented with usually fit one or more of the following stereotypes: Victim, Villain, Inspiration, Monster. And the disabled character’s storyline is generally resolved in one of a few ways: Cure, Death, Institutionalization. It’s a well-worn formula that can be changed up in a number of ways, but it usually looks something like this:

    Disabled Victim + Self-involved non-disabled Protagonist = Cured Victim + Redeemed non-disabled Protagonist

    So in A Christmas Carol:

    Tiny Tim (victim) + Miser Scrooge (non- disabled protagonist) = Cured Tiny Tim + Redeemed Scrooge

    Raymond (victim) + Charlie (self-involved, non-disabled protagonist) = Institutionalized Raymond + Enlightened, Evolved Charlie

    Sometimes, of course, the formula is more complex. For example, in Avatar, the disabled (paraplegic) character becomes “cured” only when he is in his alien avatar body, so the story is resolved when he’s permanently merged with his avatar. Avatar also presses home the myth that disabled = non-sexual, by the implication that only in the disabled hero’s avatar body can he become fully sexual. The myth of the non-sexuality of disabled people is standard in disability imagery. (Not counting blind characters. Blind characters in films, for example, are generally portrayed by attractive female actors who are victimized by predatory men, or attractive male actors who are often featured in at least one scene where they drive a car.)

    Here are a few more examples of the way the disabled character is deployed by novelists, playwrights and screenwriters. This list represents the tip of a very large iceberg. Next to each title, I’ve listed the stereotype that fits the character, and the eventual fate of the character. I know many of the examples below are considered masterpieces, and surely some of them are, but when it comes to disability, even the best writers don’t always know what they’re talking about.

    Novels:
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame – victim/(but also) monster, suicide (or killed, depending on if you read the book or see the movie)
    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – intellectually disabled victim, dies from institutional neglect, deaf victim, suicide
    Moby Dick – (Ahab) villain, killed
    Flowers for Algernon – victim, miraculously cured, but then the cure is reversed and the character institutionalized
    Peter Pan – (Capt. Hook) villain, swallowed by crocodile
    To Kill a Mockingbird – (Tom Robinson) — victim, killed; (Boo Radley) – victim, allowed to live
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – victim/martyr, killed
    Forrest Gump – inspiration, cured (he miraculously sheds his leg braces in one scene, among other things)

    Screenplays:
    Wait Until Dark – victim (inspiring a rash of films featuring naked, blind, gorgeous actresses being watched in bathtubs)
    Scent of a Woman – victim/inspiration, attempted suicide, given will to live by young assistant
    Whose Life Is It Anyway – victim, suicide
    Million Dollar Baby – victim, suicide (begs to be euthanized)
    Frances – victim, institutionalization
    Dr. No – villain, killed (drowned in an avalanche of bat shit)
    It’s a Wonderful Life (Mr. Potter) – villain, foiled by good guys
    Sling Blade – victim/but also villain, institutionalization
    The Green Mile – victim, killed (character also endowed with magical healing powers)
    Gattaca – victim, suicide (self-immolation)
    I Am Sam – inspiration
    Midnight Cowboy – victim, dies

    When African American characters were written only by white writers, or LGBT characters were written mostly by heteros, and women were written largely by men, culture in America was, in a way, simply a reflection of the imaginings of a privileged segment of the population. I’m not saying writers should only write about people from their own racial or gender backgrounds. I have often written characters who are outside of my personal experience. But there’s an authenticity to characters that are written by someone who embodies the experience of oppression that can help break through old myths. Disabled people have only begun to emerge from the shadows in the past 60 years, but they’ve already started producing art of all kinds that reflects their lived experience. Maybe it’s time for some new stories.

    Susan Nussbaum was awarded the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her novel Good Kings, Bad Kings will be available in paperback November 12, 2013.

    Is “playing god” the right POV for your story?

    How to create a credible villain in fiction

    Writing good fiction calls for creating both a strong protagonist and a solid plot. If you ignore either of these, your story can be fatally flawed. But there’s an aspect related to character that you must also pay close attention to – point of view. POV has to do with vantage point, or narrative perspective: whose eyes the story is seen from. Some characters have more at stake than others, more potential for conflict and change. You should gravitate toward these characters to serve as the “lens” for your stories.

    A second aspect of POV has to do with choice of person: First and second person POV lend intimacy, while third person establishes distance. When working in third person, many writers today choose the “third-person limited” point of view, which narrows in on one particular character’s mind. If you adopt the “third-person omniscient” POV, however, you have access to more than one character’s mind (perhaps several), and you have carte blanche to reveal anything and everything about anyone in the story or novel. Some notable omniscient examples from the past include Candide, The Scarlet Letter, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and The Grapes of Wrath. What are the benefits as well as the risks of godlike knowing with the omniscient POV?

    Benefits of the omniscient POV

    Clearly it’s beneficial in some works of fiction to get into more than one character’s consciousness. Some stories may call for different perspectives played out both dramatically and internally from two or more characters. But the omniscient point of view allows you – or I should say, your author’s persona – more godlike knowledge than this. In fact, the options are seemingly endless. You may exert your omniscience to describe your characters from the outside: the clothes they’re wearing, the look on their faces, the way others tend to see them, the way others have always seen them, and, speculatively, the way others will probably always see them – this is truly godlike knowing. Indeed, you can do this for your protagonist with the “limited omniscient” POV, but this is more omniscience than most writers wish to exert. Most of the time, they want to avoid the all-seeing, all-knowing authorial view and stick to what the character is seeing and experiencing. There are exceptions, of course, such as when the narrator maintains a good distance from the protagonist and calls the character “our hero,” or her “our heroine” with playful irony. This demonstrates an external perspective, but the omniscient POV allows much more than this.

    You may find it useful, for instance, to describe what several of the local townsfolk are busily engaged in – they’re gathering stones for a stoning in Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery.” You might, like Richard Bausch, in his opening pages of Thanksgiving Night, paint a sweeping portrait of an urban area (Point Royal, Virginia, in this case), creating a cinematic establishing shot before moving into character and story. You might even give the history of a particular place, which might not be feasible to filter through the consciousness of any of your characters because none of your characters knows this history, but you, the all-powerful author, do – and can provide it for the reader. You might, like a 19th-century writer, choose to step back from your characters and philosophize about the nature of people and the world. There’s certainly a magic in this kind of omniscience, with the world of your story fully accessible to you as all-knowing author, the god-creator reigning over it.

    Risks of the omniscient POV

    Surely there are risks in exerting very much authorial presence in a story or novel. You risk putting off readers who view this narrative presence as intrusion, the meddling of an unwanted author into the world of the characters. Too much authorial involvement can kill the dramatic power of the work. When the story starts sounding like the author’s story, not the characters’, you’ve gone too far. Be careful, then, to exercise judgment on how much you engage in authorial commentary. Award-winning author Anthony Varallo points out that you don’t want the “reader sensing too much of the writer’s hand in the story,” which, he says, “can risk breaking the ‘spell’ of the story.” With the omniscient POV, Varallo recommends finding “the lightest possible touch. I would only use it if I felt I had no other way to tell the story.” And Midge Raymond, author of My Last Continent, adds, “Omniscience has its rewards but also requires such a fine balance that it can be a challenge to get just right.”

    The multiple third-person POV

    Frankly, authorial presence is mostly a thing of the past. The godlike narrator is gone, supplanted by individual characters who have limited knowledge of the world they inhabit. An alternative to omniscient authorial presence is the effaced author. This author may allow access to a number of different characters but make no commentary on them and exclude any material that isn’t filtered through a given character’s consciousness. This effaced-author approach has become a typical set-up in today’s third-person POV fiction. Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 30 novels, including the famous Pay It Forward, doesn’t go for the omniscient. She states, “I very often narrate a novel from two points of view. More often than not, in fact. But I do it chapter by chapter, labeling each new chapter with the character name and clearly establishing POV in the first sentence. This gives me all the benefits of being able to tell the story from more than one point of view, but I think it’s easier and more comfortable for the reader.”

    A wrap on the omniscient POV

    • The third-person omniscient POV allows much more authorial range and commentary than third-person limited.
    • Use the omniscient POV only when it seems indispensable to character creation and storytelling. Make sure it doesn’t damage the dramatic power of the work.
    • Always consider an effaced narrator instead of authorial commentary.

    Jack Smith is author of numerous articles, reviews, and interviews, three novels, and a book on writing, entitled Write and Revise for Publication.

    January 23, 2019 by Writing Coach

    How to create a credible villain in fictionWe’re fascinated by our fellow humans. In fact, we have a profound desire to try and understand the thoughts and feelings bouncing around other people, the characters on TV…the hero introduced on your first page.

    From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Our fellow humans are pretty darned important to our survival. They’re our friends; the ones we collaborate and cooperate and mate with, and our foes; our competitors who can hold the power of whether we live or die. It’s why we get a burst of dopamine when someone smiles at us and the same part of our brain associated with physical pain lights up when we’re rejected (in fact, research has found that Tylenol is an effective way to reduce the anguish of social loss).

    The wonderful news is that this desire to understand and connect transfers to the fictional characters we create on the page. It means that your reader is looking for someone they can connect with. Someone who will allow them to slip off of their shoes and step into their life so they can safely trek through new territory. They want to blur the line between themselves and your protagonist.

    Your reader is wired for it and they are seeking it when they open a book.

    You need to give it to them.

    How? Well, there’s four key ways to achieve this. The first two acknowledge that a character needs to be someone your reader can establish a relationship with—and the truth is, we empathize more with people we care about. The more invisible the boundary with the self and other (i.e. the character), the easier it is to slip into empathy. To do that, we’re going to explore our commonalities. As diverse as we all are, and as unique as each of our characters are, there are some things that are universal to all humans: a want and a wound.

    Make them Want

    emotion lonely alone

    As complicated as your plot gets, at its core it should be basic. It should connect with us on a visceral level. Ask yourself, would a caveman understand the core of your story? Does it have physical and/or emotional stakes? Even if your book is a sweet rom com, you need to be able to say yes.

    Make them Hurt

    I challenge you to find a person who isn’t carrying a wound, consciously or unconsciously. Our brains have a tendency to internalize negative events. I’ve worked with children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, teens who punish themselves for social transgressions, and parents who blame themselves for their child’s disability. These perceptions and conclusions aren’t always rational (or helpful), but they’re very human. Wounds will make your character authentic and ultimately someone a reader can empathize with, no matter what they’re facing.

    The next two components are about harnessing two powerful psychological processes: curiosity and emotion. Your character needs to be someone who grabs our attention, and what captures our attention? Anything out of the norm, unexpected, or surprising. So we make our character unique. Then we harness the crucial emotional element by grabbing those heart strings and not letting go. To do that we make our character someone who is ‘more’.

    Make them Unique

    Portrait of handsome stylish man in elegant autumn coat

    It’s a well-known rule that you want to avoid stereotypes and clichés when it comes to character development. Stereotypes and clichés are familiar, commonplace, and banal. But anything new, different, unexpected, or unprecedented? That grabs our attention, all because when we are experiencing something new we are also, quite inevitably and unconsciously, learning.

    Which is why you need to make your character unique. How do you make your handsome billionaire CEO stand out in a crowd of other drool-worthy billionaire CEOs? You got it—surprise your reader. Intrigue them.

    Make them one-of-a-kind.

    Ask yourself, what about your character is unique? Is it their circumstance, their personality, their mannerisms? What haven’t readers come across before with this particular person on a page? Those are the characters your reader wants to spend time with.

    Make them More

    How to create a credible villain in fictionMany writers assume that to create an authentic, relatable character, they need to make them ‘like us.’ And they’re right. Relatable and authentic are pretty darned important, the issue is that you run the risk of having a character who is ordinary. And yes, that does translate to boring (sometimes depressing).

    Luckily, when we make our character want and hurt, we create a character a reader can connect with. We all yearn and we all bleed. But the characters who are memorable? The ones who stay with us long after we finish the book? The ones who have us looking to see if maybe, maybe this book’s (please let it be) a series?

    Those characters are more.

    These characters have something about them that is extraordinary or exceptional, not in looks or intellect, but in timeless virtues. Traits such as compassion, strength, integrity, insight, a commitment to justice, family, love, steadfastness, sacrifice, selflessness. Essentially, they are any trait that is admirable or inspirational. In fact, research has shown that reading about good people elicits a sense of elevation and inspiration.

    Ask yourself the following: what is extraordinary about your character? Even if they are an ordinary Joe Blow who lives next door, works nine to five, and drives a Volvo, what is extraordinary about him?

    Have you incorporated some or all of these key components into your character/s? Have you noticed how best-selling authors use them in their writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

    How to create a credible villain in fictionTamar Sloan is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.

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    Hi! I’m Jules!

    I’m an artist and a professional writer from Columbia Maryland, and I’m the sole writer and owner of this blog!

    My goal with this website isn’t to make you the greatest writer in the world. Although I do want to help you write your next masterpiece, my real goal is to inspire you. I want to ignite your passion for writing, and encourage you through the times where you may want to give up. You don’t have to be an expert to write; you just have to enjoy it. If you’d like to learn more about me, take a look at my “About Me” page!

    Sometimes a story is bigger than a single character or is better conveyed through the perspective of more than one character. In order to show the reader more than what any one character knows and still maintain a closeness to the characters, authors might need to use multiple points of view.

    Omniscient versus Multiple Points of View

    How to create a credible villain in fiction

    Stories that switch points of view are not the same as those that use omniscient POV. Although both techniques allow the author to tell a larger story, dive into the heads of multiple characters, and show more of the world, they accomplish this in different ways.

    In omniscient, the reader can see the inner thoughts and emotions of any character at any time. One sentence could reveal the heroine’s escape plan and the next could show what the villain is thinking. Stories with multiple POVs have sections told from the point of view of different characters, and within these sections, only show the perspective of the character through whose eyes the section is being told, even if another point of view character is present.

    Paula Hawkins uses multiple points of view in The Girl on the Train, so the reader gets to know three very different women. At the end of the book, two point of view characters are in a dangerous, stressful situation. Because that chapter is told from Rachel’s (the protagonist’s) perspective, the reader does not know what the other character is thinking, planning, or feeling. Only Rachel’s perception of the other character is known. The lack of head hopping is a key difference between multiple and omniscient points of view.

    Benefits of Multiple Points of View

    Like in omniscient, one of the key benefits of multiple points of view is the ability to show the reader what multiple characters are thinking and feeling. The reader gains a greater sense of the relationship between the characters and the overall world because they have more perspectives and more data. The reader then knows more than any one character. This provides the opportunity for the author to create dramatic irony, where the reader thinks “No don’t open that door!” because they know what is behind the door while the character does not. Dramatic irony is a great technique to create tension, suspense, and faster pacing.

    Stories told from multiple points of view are steeped in a specific character’s perspective in any given section. This pulls the reader closer to the characters and combats the distance many readers find off-putting in omniscient POV.