One of the best parts about writing in the Young Adult genre is it allows writers to create characters that inspire, well, young adults. In fact, it should be expected that if you write in the Young Adult genre, at some point a young adult is going to pick up your book and be inspired by your characters. In my own YA series, I’ve taken this to heart, trying to ensure that my main character is someone readers can relate to.

This can be a tremendous responsibility. If you make your main character cool and awesome and also have him smoke cigarettes every chance he gets … guess what? You’re going to make smoking look cool. Likewise, if your character spends most of her time sulking and generally acquiescing to the rigid demands of her demonic boyfriend, at least a few readers will think this is how to behave in a relationship.

And vice versa, of course.

This doesn’t mean that your main character needs to be a goody two-shoes. In fact, it’s a lot more fun if your characters all have some flaws, since most of us in real life do too. This is where developing a main character can get fun. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways we can make sure we have a complex main character who can still inspire readers.

Option 1: The obstacle overcome

Give your character an obstacle in the story that he/she needs to overcome. But don’t make it easy! Overcoming obstacles is tough! Let your character suffer, sweat, cry and fail. Let them learn from their mistakes. The character doesn’t have to necessarily “learn a lesson,” but he/she should at the very least acknowledge that more work than expected will be required to overcome this obstacle.

Idea: make your character deal with an obstacle that throws him or her out of their familiar setting. If your character is from the city, make the obstacle out in the woods. If your character is used to dealing with someone violent, make the obstacle include an antagonist who uses his brain to outwit heroes.

Option 2: The fall from grace

This is always a fun way to put together the story. Let your hero rise, but make sure the hero falls at some point. The hero can rise again after addressing the issues that caused the fall.

Idea: say your hero saves the world somehow. Wow. OK. Pretty used at this point. But what if that was only the first part of your story? What if, at some point, all of the praise goes to your hero’s head? Then your hero abuses his/her power … what happens next?

For the “fall from grace” to work, you have to—again—ensure that your hero is well-rounded. The reader shouldn’t be surprised that the hero is going to fall from grace. The reader should expect it because the hero has been acting foolish, or making poor decisions, or secretly pilfering gold from the treasury.

More tips:

Here are some questions to get you thinking more about your characters. Answer the questions for each character. You DON’T have to include all of this in your story, but knowing it will make it easier to write your characters …

What are your characters’ hobbies?

What kind of family do your characters have?

Does your character have any superstitions?

Taste in music? Books?


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