My biggest pet peeve is to read a book where all the characters are invariably nice, caring, helpful, and perfectly perfect in each and every way. That is not indicative of humans beings. Sometimes, we lie to our parents. Sometimes, we are horrible friends. And most times, we do the opposite of what we should because living life on our terms is easier.
When I open a novel, I want to read about real people, experiencing real life with real emotions. I recognize how hard it is for writers to raise the bar and create dynamic, multi-dimensional, and flawed characters.
What they lack is character motivation—their reason for being. Each human has a purpose, and so should each character. Know this, and you know the most important aspect of creating fictional work.
My ninth grade Advanced English teacher, Mrs. Maman told me that I could write, but it was Mr. Holden, my sophomore AP Psychology teacher who taught me how to write.
As a freshman, I started writing my first novel, Shattered, a fairytale retelling of the familiar Cinderella. In my version, Cinderella was the antagonist and the “evil” stepmother is actually good. I had the idea of what I knew my story could be, but I couldn’t recreate my vision. The dialogue was weak. The characters had no purpose. I was writing everyday with no clear goal.
It was Mr. Holden who gave me a breakthrough.
What I loved about his class wasn’t just learning about the Lucifer Effect, Carl Jung’s impact on psychology, or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was the dynamic way he engaged the class. His lectures were captivating. He told stories frequently and paired the textbook readings with worksheets, games, movies, and videos to drive home his point. His method worked. Two years later, I can still remember the concepts I learned in AP Psych.
He is a fantastic teacher, and it was through him that I was able to see that my characters lacked dimension. They were flat and monotonous. I needed an organized plan, so I made an outline. I crafted a history of my characters, made note of their goals for the future, and imagined distinctive personality traits. Then, I created a new Word document of the book I’d started the past year. As I wrote, I added layers to the characters I had already crafted in my old revision. The writing was mature. The characters were better developed. It was a step closer to the kind of work that I could publish.
It didn’t happen overnight. It took time, dedication, and long hours staring at my computer, trying to figure out what to type to write my first novel. It also took an expressive and kind teacher—Mr. Holden—and his amazing teaching style to teach me how to write the best characters.