JK Allen on Creating Complex Characters

Characters bring our stories to life. Even if we have the most exciting plot, if we have cardboard characters, our stories will fall flat. Characters are what our readers relate to and get invested in, so it’s important that they feel like real people we love or love to hate. But how do we accomplish this? First, by starting with the basics and giving our characters everything they need to be well-developed.


Every character, even the minor ones, need to have three things: a goal, motivations, and flaws. The protagonist’s goal propels the story forward. The antagonist’s goal works against the protagonist, creating much needed conflict. These two things make your story. But goals are not relegated only to your two biggest characters. Goals make your characters human and give them a purpose, even if it’s just to be left alone. We all have goals, hopes, and dreams. It also helps to keep characters from lacking depth or being stereotypical.


Your characters need to want something, even if it’s to be left alone. This gives them a layer of depth and realism and keeps the story moving forward. And what a minor character wants may go against what the protagonist wants, creating more of the conflict your story needs. Every single person has wants and desires, so giving them to your characters makes them more human and relatable.


Motivations are closely related to your character goals. They are the reasons behind what your characters want. These could be fears causing your character to act a certain way or a strong desire. Explore the reasons for why your characters do the things they do.


Finally, we have flaws. These are so important for our characters. Nobody is perfect, and perfect characters are unrealistic and boring. Especially when they are our protagonist. But more on that in a minute.

It’s also important we don’t give our characters flaws that aren’t really flaws, like being clumsy. Flaws need to affect the character’s actions and the plot. They should impede your character from achieving their goal. In a tragedy, a fatal flaw leads to the character’s demise. And we end up caring for them even more for that.

Flaws make our characters relatable for our readers. Also, keep in mind that your protagonist and antagonist should be evenly matched (if not skewed in the antagonist’s favor) in both strengths and weaknesses. If one is lacking a strong flaw, then they could easily overpower the other and then why would your reader need to read on? It should not be obvious who is going to win or lose, otherwise you lose tension and reader interest.

Just the Beginning

Now, developing fully fleshed out characters requires a little more. If you’d like to learn more about how to make 3-dimensional characters that readers will fall in love with, check out Creating Complex Characters brought to you by OWS-U. OWS-U offers great, affordable classes for authors in both writing and marketing. Creating Complex Characters is everything you need to bring your characters to life, including an in-depth character sketch you can use and the importance of what your characters really need (hint, it’s not all about appearance).

Check out Creating Complex Characters and more of these great classes at https://ows-university.teachable.com/

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