How to Bring Your Characters to Life

Nicholas Nickleby

When I started writing my first novel, I refused to believe my characters were cardboard cutouts. Since then I’ve learned a few things, such as your characters are the life of your novel. Plot, dialogue, and world-building are also important but without good characters, your novel won’t interest anyone outside of your close circle of friends.

Give Your Characters Life

Characters are like real people. They’re complicated. They have positive aspects and flaws just like us. I think the process for bringing a character to life and making them believable can be simple. Let’s look at an example. I’ll use Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Why? Because Nicholas was a great character with:


You can’t live without a heart and neither can your characters. Heart is having passion for something you care about. Nicholas had heart. He strove to stop his uncle from splitting up his family and leaving them in the poor house. A heart helps a character to have likeable qualities, even villains, so a reader can take interest in a character’s fictional life.


I tend to think we’re all walking contradictions and so are our characters. No one is perfect, after all. Nicholas was courteous but had a temper. He was courageous but acted rashly at times.

It took courage for him to stand up to Squeers, help Smike, and stop the abuse of those schoolboys. However, beating the daylights out of the schoolmaster caused Nicholas a lot of trouble throughout the story. Contradictions have positive and negative effects in your character’s life and help to add a dimension to their personality, making them more convincing.


How many times have you heard that every character needs goals? It’s a simple truism but when I first started writing, I kind of ignored that fact. A character without goals is like a book without pages. Neither makes sense. Goals are vital. They’re the main reasons why you’re writing your story.

In the case of Nicholas, he had several goals. One was to stop his uncle from blackmailing the woman he loved into marrying a man that was old enough to be her father. His goal was noble and one you wanted him to achieve. So, I rooted for him and kept reading with the hope there would be a happy ending.

More could be said but I’ll end with this, work to bring your characters to life and they’ll be unforgettable. I’ll admit I still need to work on rounding out my characters. So, what’s your experience? Do you have any tips for bringing your characters to life?

Be sure to see my post on Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips On How To Write A Short Story.

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