Developing vivid characters – 5 tips for authors

How to create an original character for your novel? There is no recipe for lively novel character. But with our tips, you can create a character that stands out and with which readers will sympathize.

How do you develop compelling and vivid characters for your novel?? You can find a lot of tips on this on the internet and in author’s guides. There is no recipe or construction kit for living novel characters. If you want to know how to develop a convincing hero, it is best to look at immortal characters from literature. There are a lot of fictional characters in novels, which seem to be living persons and have been developed by authors in a masterly way.


With our five tips, characters won’t be shadows of themselves, image © by Rainer Sturm /

This post is primarily about developing main characters. It’s all about how you develop a special and distinctive character for your book. The reader should sympathize with your hero, get angry about his setbacks and cheer his progress. It is about the development of the very special character. He stands out from the other characters and you give your novel a distinctive touch.

1. Develop an active hero

A compelling novel character is not a passive character, it can be summed up in this short formula. The main character of your story is the hero, he must actively drive the plot forward. A passive hero is ultimately a weak character and does not win the sympathy of readers. This is not about a perfect novel character, which easily removes all obstacles from the way. Your hero can and should even have weaknesses. It is rather important that your book character to the conflict and expend all your energy to advance the plot of the novel. Characters can only develop in this way.

Developing vivid characters - 5 tips for authors

Passive characters don’t go down well with readers , image © by MF /

One of the most beautiful examples of a hero who strives with energy towards his goal is Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. Although the ring is increasingly mastering its will and getting a little heavier with each step, it moves toward the fiery mountain and destroys the ring in the end. Don Quixote is also a good example of a active character. Even though reality keeps playing him nasty tricks and Sancho Panza is no real help, he faces the conflict and really any conflict in Cervantes’ novel. As you can see from these examples, active heroes don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be really lively or likeable characters either.

2. Refrain from stereotyping characters

When developing your character, it is advisable not to use stereotypes. In crime fiction you know a lot of stereotypes. These include, for example, daredevil types, the clumsy beginner, scientists or semi-criminal investigators. You can imagine how many stories have been written in the past with such characters, which are always the same and therefore interchangeable. A pale and interchangeable character you certainly don’t want to have as a main character in your book. But you can play with the stereotypes of your character and create something completely new from typical traits.

How such a thing can work is illustrated by a little story from antiquity. Zeuxis of Herakleia was a Greek painter in about the 4th century v. Chr. He was commissioned to paint Helena for the temple of Kroton. The assignment was demanding in a certain sense, after all, it was about painting the most beautiful woman of antiquity without a model. But Zeuxis had an idea and summoned the five most beautiful young women of Kroton. The girls had a perfect side in their own way, Zeuxis combined this and created the portrait of Helena from it. Here is an interesting combination technique, which you can also use for characters. You could also write down character traits of stereotypical characters, combine them and experiment with them.

3. Gives your novel character a distinctive feature

Many novel heroes have a peculiarity that makes these characters distinctive. With Sherlock Holmes it is his tobacco pipe. Oskar Matzerath by Gunther Grass is characterized by his drum. Harry Potter, on the other hand, has his distinctive glasses and, in addition, a scar on his forehead. Then again there are distinctive pairs like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. These characters from very different times and genres all have a distinctive feature. It is enough to have a picture or a graphic representation so that each of these novel characters can be easily recognized. These little peculiarities are a strategy to create a vivid book character.


Gives your novel character a distinctive characteristic, image © by Hans-Joachim Kohn /

Often, little things are enough to make a character distinctive. Let your imagination run wild. This particular appearance and unique feature should only be used for your main character or be a character duo of your novel. This makes your hero stand out from the other characters in your novel. Many authors also go to great lengths to find particularly resonant names for their novel characters and spend a great deal of energy on it. But one can argue whether a main character needs a particularly resonant name. Are character names like Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter particularly original, or do they seem so resonant because we’ve heard them over and over again. A beautiful name at least does not make a vivid character.

4. Characters are supposed to have weaknesses

Besides a distinctive feature, your character should have one or better several weaknesses. This makes the character of the novel human and sympathetic to the reader. It can be little things or quirks. But these weaknesses should not be forgotten for the Plot of importance and get in the way of the character reaching a goal. token weaknesses such as fear of spiders or fear of flying, even though there is no spider or plane in the entire novel, are ultimately bogus weaknesses and will be seen through by the reader stone cold. It is advisable that you let your character shed some weaknesses in the course of the plot and thus a development takes place.

A great example of a character who is always struggling with his or her flaws is Pierre Bezukhov from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. His tendency to overeat and overdrink is always hindering him. His habit of paying more attention to the wine than to his conversation partners at a noble social evening also gets him into trouble again and again. It’s not until near the end of Tolstoy’s tome, where Pierre is in French captivity, that he slowly begins to shed these vices. If you are resourceful, you can turn your novel character’s weakness into a real strength. John Franklin, the main character in Discovering Slowness (Sten Nadolny), turns his handicap into a strength in the course of the novel, in that his weakness counteracts slowness with particular calmness and accuracy.

5. Create a character sheet for your characters

It is useful to create a small character sheet for the most important of your characters. There you can write down everything that seems important to you. These might include the fictional character’s external characteristics, traits, or back story, for example. It is advisable to always maintain this character sheet and expand it as needed. Even if you don’t need all these details for your book, you give your characters this way more depth and that’s how vivid characters are created. Perfectionists, however, should not overdo it here and invest too much time in character development.

There are various programs that allow you to create Figure Databases enable. The best known German-language program for this is Papyrus Autor. Patchwork comes from Austria. The authoring program recently offered an ever increasing range of services. Many authors swear by the English-language Scrivener, with extensive features for writers. The three programs mentioned above are available for a fee. If you are looking for a free software, we recommend the English-language yWriter. Also with this program you can manage characters. But if you are really only interested in a character database, you can create character sheets yourself according to your wishes with a word processing program. Even the good old index card can serve this purpose. You have these cards at hand at all times, even when you are not working on your novel at the computer.

Not all characters are developed with author’s guides and at the desk

At the beginning it was already said: There is no recipe for good characters. But if you follow these five tips, the hero of your novel will be more compelling than the characters in many other books. It doesn’t make sense to develop all your characters at your desk. Watch people in your environment. Get inspiration from friends, acquaintances and relatives. Even if it sounds a bit platitudinous: life writes the best stories and invents the most original characters. In everyday life you will surely find the right inspiration and ideas for novel characters. With the 5 tips for vivid characters, you can then develop a character that appeals to the reader.

Conclusion of the book insider: What does a vivid character look like??

There is no secret recipe for creating a novel character. However, with these five tips, you can create characters that stand out from the rest.

  • The hero should actively drive the plot and face the conflict
  • Avoid stereotypes and don’t create pale, interchangeable characters
  • A hero should have a distinctive feature that sets him apart from other characters.
  • The novel’s hero should have one or more weaknesses that are significant to the plot
  • With a character sheet you have an overview of your characters and give them more depth.

Not all characters are developed at the desk. Observe people around you and get inspiration from relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors. In everyday life you sometimes find the right inspiration for your novel characters.

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