Building a hero / heroine from the ground up 

– What makes a reader fall in love with a character?

– How can we create these types of characters ourselves?

– How to create deep compelling characters that stick with a reader.



Reader fascination:

  • Offer a view into the characters and his world that is both compelling and addictive
  • Provide experiences that are new, yet rooted in real human experience


  • A powerful bond that forms when the character’s experiences triggers the reader’s own emotional memories


4 elements to reinforce empathy and fascination

  • Realism
  • Recognition
  • Worthiness
  • Emotional connection


  • Very important to know character well enough


  • characters need to have same flaws, interests emotions etc that real people have


  • must believe that our character is worthy


  • lifeblood of story – how can we resonate emotions throughout everything we do


Building a compelling character 

Think outside the box

 Step 1: Grounding the character in the real world  

This has 4 components

i. Human needs:

Maslow’s hierachy of needs

Self actualisation – achieving personal growth, wanting to accomplish goals and reach one’s full potential

Esteem – feeling respected and valued, and having self confidence & self-esteem (not feeling valued causes disruption)

Love & belonging – acceptance and a sense of intimacy with friends, family and groups

Safety & security – personal and financial security, health and wellbeing, protection from illness

Physiological – food water, clothing shelter, sex and reproduction

When a character is dissatisfied, feels incomplete – one of these needs is missing in their life.


Character arcs: 

  • Character starts dissatisfied – who they are at the start of the story is incomplete in some way
  • Character that has everything, is completely satisfied – something happens, story takes one / some of those things away


ii.  Universal desire for self growth

  • What behaviours does character want to get rid of?
  • What fears do they want to face?
  • What negative aspects of themselves to they want to deal with?


The journey for self-improvement is universal

Self-growth is tied to happiness and satisfaction

Every victory leads to increase confidence and belief in oneself


iii.  Worthy goals

Goals that resonate with readers – ask WHY

  • Does it fulfil a universal human need?
  • Is it logical and attainable?
  • Will this goal remind readers of their own needs and desires?
  • Is there an emotional attachment to this goal?
  • What’s at stake? What happens if the character does not succeed?


iv.  Common worries and fears: The power of inner turmoil

Anchor your character in the reader’s mind through real-world worries, insecurities and fears


Step 2: strengths readers admire 

  • Likeability
  • Moral traits and convictions
  • Strengths that have impact
  • Attributes that tell a story


Backstory is not the F world

Instead it allows authors to:

  • Use the character’s motivation to give stronger purpose to each action, decision and choice
  • Apply a deeper meaning to the story events by infusing specific symbolism tied to the character’s past
  • Understand which pressure points will push the character toward change (character arc) no matter how much pain they must endure


How positive attributes form:

Positive influencers

  • Mentors, healthy role models and other people who teach the character core values, encourage exploration and foster self-growth

Uplifting experiences and worldly exposure

  • Esteem-building interaction with others
  • Lessons derived from seeing the world in motion in positive ways
  • Discovering one’s role and responsibilities within one’s family, community and society

Self-growth achievement

  • Navigating a difficult situation in a health manner
  • Events (positive and negative) that offer insight into oneself and what is important
  • Overcoming past emotional wounds


Attribute categories


  • Right and wrong, ethics and deeply embedded beliefs determine attributes
  • Centre of who character is
  • Some come into conflict – eg kindness vs honesty


  • Traits assist the character in achieving important life goals


  • Traits which help character work with others, handle conflict, convey ideas and forge healthy relationships


  • Personal sense of identity allowing the character to explore what makes him unique


Hero’s greatest strength and impact on character arc

An important question to ask:

  • What specific positive trait will help your hero or heroine overcome their biggest obstacles

Hints to uncover this attribute:

  • Often your character’s greatest strength is mistaken for a weakness
  • Internal growth during Character Arc allows him to see it for what it is: an asset
  • This attribute my be akin to a muscles that has not been flexed in a long time, and so the character must work to master it
  • This attribute is stronger than the character’s biggest flaw, but only if he or she learns to embrace it fully
  • (must face wound in the past to allow them to move forward and embrace attribute)


Author: Philippa

I make arty mixed-media things, & write fantastical things (with kissing), & do musical & dancing things, & play gaming things, & do weightlifting things, & organise fabulous event things. But mostly I wrangle cats. Renaissance woman.

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