Writing Wednesdays: How to write relatable characters

September 24, 2014
Some advice on writing relatable characters...

A lot of people have sent me asks along the lines of, ‘How do you write a character that people will relate to? How do you make your readers feel like they can empathise with what your characters going through?’ - so here goes.

1. This is one instance where I will say perhaps it’s best to write what you know.

I knew a lot of different people in high school and university – people who weren’t outright cruel but could be emotionally manipulative, people who got on with literally everyone, people who were quiet until you got to know them and suddenly they’re the liveliest person you know.

Personally, I don’t like to base characters off people I know – I think about characteristics or aspects of personality that stand out and maybe they get thrown into my characters somewhere.

Think about the people you know: think about a strong point of their personality. Like how they make an innuendo out of literally anything, or how they always make people feel better when they’re down, or how they always tell you the right answers to the homework. Chances are, there are other people out there with similar parts of personality and your readers will relate to these, even indirectly.


Even the ‘perfect’ character will have some flaw – maybe it’s that their home life is a bit difficult, that their love life is a disaster, or they’re failing a subject at school.

Flaws make characters human and that’s when people will relate to them. Flaws make your characters seem more real, and people can relate to them better. Think anger issues. Or maybe they cry really easily over the littlest of things. Maybe they’re an only child, and their parents have doted on them, so they come off as a bit pretentious and spoilt, but they don’t mean to be that way - it’s just how they are. Maybe they’re smart, and can’t help but correct other people all the time.

You might also like this post on character development.

3. Embarrassing and awkward situations are your friend.

Put your characters in embarrassing or upsetting or awkward situations, a situation that will cause them to react strongly and have them react in a less-than-sensible and impulsive way. Again - it makes your characters human, and your readers can sympathise with them a little.

4. People make mistakes – even your characters – and that’s okay.

Everyone makes mistakes, and learning from those mistakes is part of growing and finding out who you are and generally being human. So if your characters are human (or human-like in their mannerisms and personality, at least, and you know, not Vulcan and too logical to make mistakes or something) then they will make mistakes.

5. Think about the characters in books that you relate to – and think about why you relate to them.

What is it about those characters that you find you can understand and relate to? Is it because they’re the same age as you? Is it because they’re dealing with first love, and you’re inexperienced when it comes to romance? Is it because they’re alienated for some reason? Think about what you relate to in characters, and try and apply that sort of thing to your own novel.

What are your tips for writing relatable characters? Do you have a character you've read recently that you thought is really relatable? Share them in the comments below!

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