Last Word

Write characters that compel readers to the page

“When you’re writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children’s books.”

–Roald Dahl


(Flickr: Davidlohr Bueso)

Most writers will admit to pouring so much of themselves into a character that the line of demarcation is nearly imperceptible. Of course, we all slice off a little piece of our souls and tuck it carefully into the hearts of our characters–each and every one of them.

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But, venerated author Roald Dahl makes a good point here. In order for our characters to truly captivate an audience, they must be unique and memorable and worthy of a reader’s valuable time.

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Whether a hero or villain, they must have the power to draw others to them so that readers will feel bound to their story, powerless to look away from the pages because they care about what happens to the characters they have grown to love.

What makes a character truly special? Extraordinary characters go beyond what is normal. They exceed what is customary. They do the unexpected. They perform in ways that others find exceptional, bold, honorable and even fearsome.

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Most importantly, characters walk a very important line that sees them transcending the ordinary, but also in possession of common human traits and flaws. This allows readers to see something of themselves in the character. They relate. They celebrate both the humanness and the magic of the character.

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What makes each of your characters special? Which qualities are most embraced by readers? What is it that will make your audience feel connected and compelled to follow your protagonist’s story? If you’re not sure, ask your beta readers for feedback.

Finally, think about memorable characters that have stayed with you over the years? List the qualities that made them unforgettable.

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at

Kerri S. Mabee

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