Ever since I started writing, I’ve wanted to write a unique character. One with many interesting facets and a personality that captures the reader. A character who plays their role so well that they make it memorable. Of course, that’s the goal of every author, from the beginner to the experienced author.
Here are 12 professional tips for writing a unique character!
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A Small Note
Some of the tips in this article are taken from an older article of mine but edited and improved. These tips have gone through, at this point, several waves of serious scrutiny so should provide you with professional insight to writing unique characters.
Having gone through these tips again, I found that some areas needed clarifying and there are some tips I can’t believe I didn’t include.
With that said, let’s tackle tip number one!
Tip 1: Make Their Actions Different, Not Looks
The beginner author will create their unique character by simply giving them a different look. Perhaps they dress only in blue or wear clothes from the 18th century. Yet, changing their look doesn’t make them unique. It won’t help separate them from your other characters in your novel.
At least, not in a way that matters. Sure, you can make them stand out by making them look incredibly ostentatious, but if you can’t make a personality to match the appearance, it won’t work out the way you want it to.
What will make them stand out is their actions and how they are different from others. Let me propose a scenario to give you a good idea of what I am talking about:
Two characters are arguing when your character approaches. What is your character’s course of action?
Does your character try to mediate, try to incite a more heated argument or perhaps take the side of one of the other characters?
Through simple situations such as this, you can convey your character’s personality with ease. Consider conflict, backstory and basic social interactions as well. Make their actions define who they are, not the colour of their shoes or the shade of blue of their eyes.
Tip 2: Prejudices, Enemies, Faults and Fears
While it is easy to create friends and build relationships, the foundation of development is conflict. The resolutions of conflicts perfectly shape a character and their path in the novel. What better way to create conflict than by giving your character unique prejudices and enemies?
By this point in your character’s creation, you have no doubt decided on their place in the novel. Yet, to make them stand out you need to give them beliefs that create conflict. Prejudice for a certain character or certain side of a conflict is a great way to do this. It’s a believable conflict, one that anyone might find familiar.
In addition, what are your character’s enemies? Does your character have a problem with them or do they have a problem with your character? In essence, will there be a scene down the line where your unique character confronts someone they are prejudiced against or perhaps have a conflict with?
Finally, what are their faults and fears? It is easy to tell the reader what the character is good at, but what do they struggle with? Could it be they are afraid of the dark or that they are not a good runner? Of course, these faults and fears need to play a part in your novel, otherwise, there is no point in including them.
Yet, if you do decide upon a fault or fear to give our character, it will go a long way in making them unique, not to mention believable.
Tip 3: Give Them Their Part of the World
When I say give your character a part of the world, I don’t mean a part in the world. Your character has a part in it already, otherwise, you would have never created them. Yet, what part of the world are they comfortable in? Where do they feel most at home?
Let’s create a scenario for your character:
Your character is in trouble. It could be a personal conflict or something simple and they need a place to go. In which case, where do they go to escape? Or better yet, who do they go to for an escape?
A deeper question that will help highlight the troubles of your character, but more uniquely, it will highlight what is important to them. It will tell the reader more about the character’s comfort zones, what they feel strongly about and perhaps who they will protect with their life.
Going further than a specific place, let’s tackle the core of that detail. What is your character’s backstory? A place helps hint at this backstory, from the place in the world to the neighbourhood, to the contents of that house, apartment or whatever. Every character should have some backstory, but for a unique character, their home is often a detail that is overlooked.
It tells the reader a lot about the character, as in what makes them comfortable. It’s a subtle character-building technique that is certainly worth a try.
Tip 4: Give Them a Unique Goal
In most novels, it is easy to say what each character’s main goal is. For main protagonists, it is to put a stop to anything that jeopardises their safety or those that they care for. For antagonists, it is to destroy all that they despise.
Yet, for a unique character, their goals should not be so black-and-white. For a unique character, their goals should involve a character, protagonist or antagonist. Their ambitions aren’t set on the world as a whole, so to speak, but on other characters that help them or hinder them.
Your character could be on a journey of self-discovery, looking to protect someone or take revenge on someone else. To achieve their goal, the unique character will side with whoever they need to. That way they play a part, but it isn’t a simple one.
These unique goals make for interesting character developments if the character achieves or fails to achieve them. Bear this in mind when creating your character and you will have no problem in making them stand out. A great benefit if you want to make your world feel larger and full of life.
Tip 5: Give Them Unique Phrases and Speech
One problem that is evident in beginner writing is dialogue. Dialogue is often written without personality in mind, resulting in lines that sound like they are being spoken by the same person. To combat this and create more unique characters, you need to change the way your characters speak.
You can do this by either giving them particular phrases that suit their background or personality. For example, supposing your character comes from a rough background, yet is strong and confident. The words your character will then use will be bold and informal.
On the opposite end of this spectrum, a nervous character who had an average upbringing might stammer and use more polite language. It is differences like this that need to be highlighted in your dialogue. If you don’t, the speakers will never stand out.
With that in mind, your goal through these dialogues is simple. You want your reader to read a line of dialogue and know who is speaking. Once you have done that you have nailed personality through dialogue and your characters are far more memorable than they were before.
Tip 6: Grow Them, Don’t Change Them
Now, this tip is in regards to the scenes throughout your novel. Character development is a phrase thrown around a lot, but to put it simply, your characters need to grow, not change.
By this I mean your character needs to change themselves through lessons learned along their journey. Perhaps they are saved by somebody they feared, perhaps their unique way of speaking gets them into more trouble than they ever expected. Anything that can throw your character into a conflict that has them second-guessing who they are.
It is only this way you should develop your character, as they don’t simply change. There needs to be a reason for their development, so give them one. It takes time and some lessons won’t have such a dramatic effect straight away, but including such scenes will help create a unique and realistic character.
Tip 7: Give Them Values, Give Them Choices
Speaking of development, let us talk about what you will be developing. The values and beliefs of a character affect how they interact with other characters and what decisions they make throughout the novel.
The values given to these characters are often values displayed by someone they look up to. A hero became a hero because they idolised a hero. Their morality was defined by those who they found inspirational and desirable. With that in mind, there is plenty of room to create a unique character.
Let us suppose your character has the values that they have because of their past. You can decide who influenced them and then put those values in the spotlight. Once there, you can see if these values hold up or not.
Your character meets someone strange who asks the character to trust them. Your character could read people easily and decide to trust them or not, based on that gut feeling. Or, your character could not read people so well. In that case, your character might put their trust in someone bad or not trust someone good.
The variety of options are many, but it is when your character is confronted with such conflicting ideas that their uniqueness is most profound. Your character could be diplomatic or confrontational and those choices could have a positive or negative result. All of this will make your character different from any other.
Tip 8: Surprise Yourself, Surprise Your Reader
If you want to write a character and be sure that they are unique, don’t always go with your instinct.
It is easy for an author, especially an experienced one, to slip into a phase of normal writing. In other words, you write things a certain way on instinct, you feel for what makes sense, what is ‘normal.’ While this is the most common way a writer gets into the flow of things, it can easily lead to predictability in writing.
Predictability is sometimes acceptable, but sometimes not. To avoid predictability, a writer needs to shake things up with something new. An unexpected decision, a new character, a new perspective, or even a new core element to your story being introduced are some ways you can surprise your reader and surprise yourself.
Now, you need only apply the same tactic to your character creation. Try to recognise when you are slipping into this flow of writing. Notice when you make something so predictable that it is unacceptable. Is your character coming off too bland? Are their decisions too easy to predict? How can you add a twist, or a difference, that will surprise the reader?
Tip 9: Don’t Be Afraid to Borrow Ideas
Next, I need to warn you about taking it too far. About making your character too unique, so bizarre that they appear nonsensical to your reader.
One of the best methods for shaping a character, even a unique one, is to borrow ideas from other characters you admire. That’s right, look at characters and use similar traits to help build your character. You might think this counterintuitive to writing a unique character, but really it’s just grounding your unique character.
No character in literature is truly unique. Everything has been done before, reused several times and will continue to be reused. Yet, these characters are still rightfully labelled unique, because the author’s style, story and role for the character make for an excellent combination of differences that make them unique.
With that said, if you are struggling to make your character unique and still well-written, it might be because you are trying too hard to make them unique. In which case, it might be time to look at other characters for inspiration. You will be surprised how many characters might be similar to your own, thus they make for an excellent base for you to construct your characters.
Tip 10: Clichés Happen
Another goal of a writer striving to make a unique character is the stern avoidance of anything that might be cliche.
While this is a rule that almost every author keeps in mind, sometimes it is simply unavoidable. You can have any combination of story, character and world, but you will still find yourself recognising a cliche character trope, an overused phrase or even a done-to-death plot twist.
That’s what this tip is about. You must simply accept the inevitable and know whether to accept the cliche or correct it.
More often than not, the cliche will be something acceptable, thus it doesn’t need to be remedied. These cliches are silly phrases that are easily predictable, or perhaps an exchange between characters that was bound to happen given their roles. These are cliches that simply happen throughout the story, but don’t bring the story down.
However, the cliches that break the scene, spoil a character or lessen the effect of the plot are a lot more noticeable and certainly require some correction. It could be that you write your characters into such a scene or dialogue to continue the story, but something is missing or simply doesn’t work. Next thing you know, you have a scene that is painfully predictable that it comes off amateurish.
By all means, try to avoid these problems and correct them when you can, but don’t beat yourself up when a simple cliche rears its smirk-wearing head.
Tip 11: Make Them Stand Out
A unique character, especially the main character, should stand out in the world and the story.
If you are writing down-to-earth fiction and you want to make your characters realistic, you might fall into the trap of making your characters mundane and uninteresting. It starts out harmless enough, where you simply make the character have some common traits that don’t separate them from average people.
Doing so makes them more relatable too, which can result in the reader having a greater attachment to them. That sounds like a win so far!
Yet, if you fixate on the average, on the mundane details, your character will start to read as too average. You have to spice things up to put them on the pedestal of ‘important character’. It could be that they are thrown into an extraordinary situation, or they have an interesting backstory. There are many ways you can make your character a lot more interesting, while still retaining the details that make them realistic and relatable.
Of course, for less down-to-earth fiction, a writer has a lot more freedom in making the character stand out. When one throws magic into the mix, immediately the character is something special. Or, you can make the character a secret agent, or have connections to the criminal underworld, or perhaps they harbour a dark secret.
I will leave that decision to you. Simply make your character special and you will make them unique as well. It’s all well and good to think that most characters in literature are special in some way, so perhaps making them so normal is what makes them unique. However, there are some aspects of unique character creation that are necessary, even if they are common.
Tip 12: Get a Second Opinion
The last tip is a piece of advice that works for all forms of art; get a second opinion.
You could ask a friend, family member or a fellow writer to give you an opinion on your writing. Once they read your writing, ask them questions. Ask them what they thought of the character, the writing style, the dialogue, anything and everything. Most importantly, ask them for advice on improving, even if they aren’t writers themselves.
Some suggestions you can excuse, either because it doesn’t fit in your story or it might spoil something you have planned. However, advice on areas that you are not so sure about can be invaluable. Making these improvements could only take a moment, but mean so much to your future readers.
The challenge for every writer is to get what they have in mind and put it on paper. To write a story that ticks all the boxes you have, even the ones you didn’t know you had. A second opinion will help you do this.
Of course, in this instance, you would ask your friend or family member about a specific character. Explain to them every major detail, give them your professional summary as well as your unprofessional one. These thoughts coupled with your writing will give them a great idea of your character and what you have in mind for them. Thus, it will make it easier for them to give advice that can be truly helpful.
When it comes to seeking advice, you can always turn to others for help. Friends and family are the best assets for guidance, you might be pleasantly surprised with what they suggest.
However, if you are looking for more advice from other writers and professionals, I can also recommend joining the Scribe Tier in my Writers Workshop. You can talk with other writers in the group, submit your writing and receive feedback. You can even submit small excerpts of writing to me for advice, which I am happy to provide!
If you want more professional attention and advice, then I recommend the Novelist Tier. With that Tier, you get access to a host of benefits from all the previous tiers and one-on-one chats with me where we talk about your book. It’s a tier for passionate writers who want to make the most of their stories!
I hope you enjoyed this article and if you have any more tips you want to add to the list, be sure to include them in the comments below!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!