Creating Characters that Readers Can Love

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by Ann H. Gabhart

Why do we love picking up fiction books to read? Great settings can add to a story, like the Appalachian Mountains setting I used for Along a Storied Trail. Interesting history makes me dive into a story. A plot that keeps me turning pages is a big plus. All those definitely contribute to a good novel, but readers love fiction for the way they can love the people in a story. They want to be able to share their fictional journeys.

So how do you create characters that spring to life in your imagination and then in your reader’s imagination too? You make them real, but hold on a minute. While we do want fictional characters to be real, they aren’t exactly the same as the people we actually know. First off, readers want fictional characters to be more handsome or ugly, loving or ruthless, brave or cowardly and so on than the average Joe or Jane.

Years ago, when I was about ten, I started writing my first book, a Hardy Boys type mystery starring me as the main character – with a big difference. The girl in my story was cuter, smarter, and way less shy than I actually was. Even then, I knew that I, as a reader, wanted my fictional character to be more interesting than I actually was. The people in the stories we read are more passionate about everything and more adventurous. They are ready to fight for what they want when we writers shove them toward that fight with complications, and oh, how their romances can make us sigh.

A full cast of characters come on and off stage in novels. Some are minor characters necessary to the story but showing up rarely. Yet, your story can be enriched if you can help these “walk-on” characters come to life by giving them some identifying feature that resonates with the reader. For example, a neighbor might carry dog treats in her pocket to give your character’s dog.

But the major characters that populate your story should be fully rounded in order to grab a reader. These aren’t only your main viewpoint characters, but the secondary characters as well. Some of these will be ready to go to bat for your protagonists while others might be standing in the way, either intentionally or unintentionally, of your main characters’ dreams and goals. In order to bring your cast of characters to life, you need to get to know each of them and what makes them tick.

To keep my story people straight in my mind, I keep a detailed character list for each book. My main characters are listed with birthdates, ages in the story, and various family relationships. I also keep a list of the names of every character I introduce into the story. That isn’t only the people characters but also place names along with every critter given a name which in Along a Storied Trail included dogs, mules, horses, and cats.

In Along a Storied Trail, my three viewpoint characters each have their own story trails with unique hopes and dreams. They have their good points and their faults and their own individual voices. As they interact with one another and all the other characters that are part of the story, I hope they spring to life in my readers’ minds.

If you can make the reader believe your characters existed long before the story begins and have them wishing they knew what happened to them after the story ends, you’ve succeeded in creating characters who will find a place in a readers heart.

Characters that leap off the page are why readers love fiction. @AnnHGabhart #ACFWBlogs #writetip #critiques #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

ANN H. GABHART, bestselling author of over thirty-five novels, writes stories using Kentucky history and locations. She writes about Shakers, small town life, mystery (as A.H. Gabhart), and Appalachia in her new release, Along a Storied Trail. She enjoys country life on her Kentucky farm. For more about Ann, visit



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