How to Write Better Characters: Advice from Top Authors

yellow notebook page with writing

Here are some of the best pieces of advice from over a decade of workshops at the Miami Writers Institute. I’ve condensed some of the lessons learned from these classes, and from fourteen years of building my own career as an author, into 14 days of emails. This post is a collection of great one-liners on how to build better characters.

Top authors share great one-liners on how to build better characters

“Sometimes an INVESTABLE character is better than a LIKEABLE one. . .  Unrelatable characters are those who have no real justification for the strange thing they’re doing or strange choice they made.”—Jacinda Townsend: Conflict Through Character, 2014
“Give your main character your biggest fear – or your happiest moment.”—Ana Menendez: Oulipo Writing Tricks, 2011
“Character development begins the moment when characters begin to do things that are not in their own best interest. The self-destructive element fascinates us.”—Rick Moody: Revision, 2008
“(On why planning a structure is important.) If you let your characters run the story, they will just sit on their asses and eat Doritos.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard: Structure, 2013
“The primary purpose of dialogue is character, not info delivery. Characters that feel alive have lines that nail them.”—Mat Johnson: Building the Novel, 2013
“Your protagonist can be flawed but has to be identifiable and redeemable.”—Judy Sternlight: Prepping Your Novel for Prime Time, 2014
“The point of a metaphor is to deepen the understanding of the emotional moment. . . . Stick with the one metaphor that matches the emotional truth.”—Tiphanie Yanique: Ventriloquy in Fiction, 2017
“The embarrassing character at a wedding is a writer’s best friend.”—Steve Almond: Short Stories that Sing, 2009

More about Jacinda Townsend | More about Jacquelyn MitchardMore about Mat Johnson | More about Rick Moody | More about Ana Menendez | More about Steve Almond | More about Tiphanie Yanique | More about Judy Sternlight

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

Two weeks of daily emails. Part creative writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir about building a career as an author.