Knowing how to write characters in fiction novels is an important skill to have and it is great if you can write about characters so that they are loved by the reader. Happy readers means more sales, bigger royalty checks and with luck, freedom from the day job so you have more time to write. So don’t think you are too pure to consider how to make money writing – unless you’re independently wealthy, money matters!
It is the main characters in a book that will move the story forward so it is important to focus on these characters and develop them so that they fit well into the story. Note that we’re not talking about ‘difficult’ literary fiction here, but about the majority of mainstream fiction stories (including less experimental literary fiction) that appeals to the majority of readers. We’ll focus particularly on romance, simply because it has such a massive slice of the market and provides simple, clear examples.
A story generally has a protagonist, the main character whose story it mostly is. It’s possible to have more than one protagonist but it’s usually better not to split the reader’s attention too far.
In most cases, there is also an antagonist, who comes into the plot to cause trouble and poses problems or challenges for the protagonist. The antagonist could be a true villain, as in some crime stories, or someone who unintentionally gets in the way of the protagonist having an easy life, thus creating an internal conflict for the protagonist. In romance, the protagonist and antagonist often resolve their conflicts to end up living happily ever after together.
One thing that many people realize when writing a well constructed story is that the protagonist has to be liked. If the hero or heroine is not liked then it will be difficult for the viewer to connect with the story.
This doesn’t mean that the protagonist has to be 100% nice. If you create a hero or heroine that is mean in some way, that’s fine, but if you go too far, it may be difficult to see the positive sides in that character and they’ll just come across as someone who is negative and unlikable. If you work out a way of connecting this negativity with a past experience and give reasoning behind this, it may make more sense to the viewer and be more acceptable within the story.
This is another important part of having a well constructed story and is known as empathy. If the viewer can emphasize with the main characters then they can learn to like them a lot more.
There are generally two different types of heroes that can be found in the story and these are described as an Alpha hero and Beta hero.
The beta heroes are generally kinder than alpha heroes and they may be seen as slightly weaker in some way. These heroes are often portrayed as the type of character that could be described as the boy next door. This means that they’re easy to get along with and can make friends with almost anyone.
The alpha hero is stronger or higher status than the beta hero. In classic 19th century romance and even into the 20th and 21st centuries, he would usually be richer – although it’s possible to have an alpha hero who is poor but ambitious. He’s often more withdrawn than the beta hero; not so open, and more considered in his speech and decisions.
Because of this, an alpha hero often comes across as unlikeable, aloof or rude at first, either to the reader or to the protagonist, or both. One of the challenges of writing romance is how to bring the heroine and the reader to see through his aloofness to the passion that lies within, in a way that will have him become a truly admirable character in the end.