I’ll admit it--I’m much more into lit fic, classics, biographies, and poetry than I have ever been into fantasy. But that interest has taught me a thing or two about creating characters that hold their pain in the subtlest and most realistic of ways, that feel less like characters and more like people you’d meet on the street, that are flawed and not-necessarily loved, but always devastatingly human.
And it is to my belief that they can be applied to fantasy to make your characters more real--less Divergent and more Six of Crows.
Now, there’s nothing too wrong with less-developed characters in YA. Mare from The Red Queen, Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Tris from Divergent are all strong women with brilliant stories that are well-loved bestsellers. The catch, though, is the specific points of their character arcs can’t be mapped out too well.
Again, they are brilliant, albeit a bit trope-y, but there can be better.
Many YA books fall into the trap of intensely prioritizing romance, whether it be coupling every character off by the end (because what is a happy ending without a partner, right?) as well as choosing to create complexity in relationships through unhealthy enemies in love. But, you want more. The reason books like Six of Crows or Harry Potter work so well are the complex family and friend relationships and the too-relatable idea of healing and mending them.
A character will grow and change through the people they interact with. Like Jane Eyre, they will learn to understand past events. There is a whole world and a whole backstory you have created, let it all intertwine, let it all be understood, even if it's not all said.
Characters are the most memorable part of any book, and you need yours to interact. Especially with YA, give your readers dynamics to write fanfiction or make text posts with.
Sides & Flaws
Listen, I don’t care how outspoken your character is, but you need situations where they are not. No one is the same person in front of everyone, and while characters being out of character is a warning sign in a book, the kindest character may gossip with a close friend, the rudest character may respect their mentor, we need shy characters who rise to the bait.
I’ve noticed that fantasy can go too far, especially with their strong female characters. They’ll be oddly gentle or somewhat unseemly towards a young sibling or love interest, and that’s it.
Let them be mean, let them be cruel. Let it be known that that does not define them.
Many secondary characters come off lazily executed, but it is to my belief some of the best books have them. Give your readers something to write fics about, a world so fleshed out with people they can love. Give them Connor and Travis Stoll, give them Lityerses from Trials of Apollo.
Your side characters matter, and they are an incredible tool. Most of the best books—from classics to YA, give you this fleshed out world your character interacts within and grows from, and it's the people that build it.
All in all, it is very up to you what to do with this, but characters are just as important as a thrilling plot, if not more.
is a high school freshman in New Jersey. She likes (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and is always up to learn something new! Find her on Instagram at @writing_stoot.