Making a Character Loveable


According to The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take by Eric Edson [], giving a character a few of the following traits will have readers bonding to her/him like cyanoacrylate (Super Glue®). I don’t think I need to say why this is a good thing.

  1. courage
  2. unfair injury
  3. skill
  4. funny
  5. just plain nice
  6. in danger
  7. loved by friends & family
  8. hardworking
  9. obsessed

These speak for themselves for the most part, but we need to take note of #5: just plain nice. This works for a character like Gizmo in the movie Gremlins but please, let’s not make our characters nothing but sweetness and light. We must give them at least one flaw.

We need not — nor should we — use all 9 of the above attributes. Pick and choose according to the backstory of the protagonist without actually telling the backstory. [I’ll cover backstory more fully in a future post.] Use the one(s) that will advance the story, contribute to subplot, add love interest, excitement, mystery, motivation …

Take, for example, the main character in RJ Harlick’s Meg Harris Mysteries ( Meg is brave, smart, nosy, helpful, determined, curious … all qualities essential for “detecting” perpetrators and having folks cooperate and supply information (“talk”). But she has a predilection for too much booze and a problem with close relationships. She sounds almost human, doesn’t she?

RJ Harlick puts Meg in danger in every one of these mysteries and Meg’s flaws add an extra element of danger (#6, above): Meg is usually alone when she hunts for the murderer and she occasionally falls off the wagon, too. Uncertainty always lurks in the shadows.

If we must have our protagonist be as perfect as perfect can be, perhaps we can give him one enemy [not the villain]. This enemy seems to know — or actually does know — something nasty about our just plain nice protagonist. This enemy could even be the clichéd hypercritical, gossipy next door neighbour. [It’s always good to avoid the stereotype like the nosy neighbour, but some genres tolerate, if not require, clichéd secondary characters.]

Perhaps rather than have our protagonist move into the neighbourhood (standard fare for Romance novels, as one example) have somebody else move in. Somebody who swears they know our hero. Does our hero know her?

Next post July 4: Making a Character Killable

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):


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