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Book: Writing Vivid Characters - Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer's Craft Book 18) by Rayne Hall

Book: Writing Vivid Characters - Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer's Craft Book 18) by Rayne Hall

categories: Book, Novel Writing, Creative Writing, Fiction Editing, Fiction Characterization, Writer's Craft, Fiction Writing


Rayne Hall

Author Rayne Hallabout this book: Professional techniques for fiction authors for creatingcompelling characters about whom the readers care deeply.



Make the readers like the MC from the first page, so they look forward to spending many hours in his company.

Here are two techniques you can use.

8. Make the MC an 'Underdog'

Readers root for characters who are at a disadvantage. Find a way to present your MC as lesser-privileged, and readers will sympathise.

Could she be wheelchair-bound, limping or blind, and thus unable to join activities? Maybe his face is scarred by pockmarks, or so disfigured by burns that his ugliness scares people. She might belong to an ethnic minority and can't get a good job, or come from a family of good-for-nothings and therefore get the blame for every neighbourhood crime. His classmates may mock him because of his stutter, or look down on him because he wears hand-me-downs while they show off their designer clothes.

Even if your character comes from a privileged background, you can find an 'underdog' angle: what if he's the king's youngest son and therefore of no importance? Perhaps being a girl in a patriarchal society means she can't get the education she yearns for. Or what if the boy gets neglected in favour of his mother's children from her new marriage?

Use your creativity to come up with an 'underdog' angle, and establish it in the opening scene, ideally on the first page.

What not to do:

Don't let the MC whine about his fate, or even comment or dwell on it. That would lessen the reader's admiration. Instead, he ignores the taunts and makes the best of the bad situation.

The MC Helps Someone Less Fortunate Than Himself

Establish the MC as a likeable person by showing how she does a small act of kindness in the first scene. Ideally, she is helping someone who is helpless.

Perhaps she sees a trapped puppy and frees it. Maybe he tells the men who verbally harass a woman to stop. She may witness a classmate getting bullied and step in. Even a simple act such as holding the door open for a wheelchair-user or a pram-pushing mum serves.

This method is super-effective when combined with the 'underdog' effect. Readers admire a character who, while suffering himself, still helps those who are suffering more. What if her wealthy fellow students snub her because she can't afford to join them in the cafeteria, and then she gives her modest lunch money to a hungry homeless person?

To increase the impact, show that nobody else is making an effort. Perhaps everyone pushes past the frail old man struggling to climb the stairs. Or perhaps people want to help, but lack the courage and resourcefulness. A whole crowd may have gathered, staring up at the balcony where a toddler is stuck in the railing, terrified of what will happen if the kid falls – and your MC climbs up and gets him free.

What not to do:

Don't dwell on the good deed. The MC doesn't make a big deal out of it, and neither should you. Let the MC act in a matter-of-course way, without dwelling on it, and immediately move on to what he has set out to do.


Here's an example from one of my own books, Storm Dancer, where I combined these two techniques to gain sympathy for Dahoud:

Even in the shade of the graffiti-carved olive tree, the air sang with heat. Dahoud listened to the hum of voices in the tavern garden, the murmured gossip about royals and rebels. If patrons noticed him, they would only see a young clerk sitting among the lord-satrap's followers, a harmless bureaucrat. Dahoud planned to stay harmless.

The tavern bustled with women - whiteseers hanging about in the hope of earning a copper, traders celebrating deals, bellydancers clinking finger cymbals - women who neither backed away from him nor screamed.

The youngest of the entertainers wound her way between the benches towards their table, the tassels on her slender hips bouncing, the rows of copper rings on her sash tinkling with every snaky twist. Since she seemed nervous, as if it was her first show, he sent her an encouraging smile. Ignoring him, she shimmied to Lord Govan.

The djinn slithered inside Dahoud, stirring a stream of fury, whipping his blood into a hot storm. Would she dare to disregard the Black Besieger? What lesson would he teach to punish her insolence?

Dahoud stared past her sweat-glistening torso, the urge to subdue her washing over him in a boiling wave. For three years, he had battled against the djinn's temptations. To indulge in fantasies would batter his defences and breach his resistance. He focused on the flavours on his tongue, the tart citron juice and the sage-spiced mutton, on the tender texture of the meat.

Govan clasped the dancer's wrist and drew her close. "Come, honey-flower, let's see your blossoms."

She tried to pull herself from his grip. Panic painted her face. Against a lesser man's groping, she might defend herself with slaps and screams, but this was the lord-satrap. She was too young to know how to slip out of such a situation, and none of her older colleagues on the far side of the garden noticed her plight. The other clerks at the table laughed.

"My Lord," Dahoud said. "She doesn't want your attentions."

"She's only a bellydancer." Contempt oiled Govan's voice. Still, he released the girl's hand, slapped her on the rump, and watched her scurry towards the safety of the musicians. "These performers are advertised as genuine Darrians. I have a mind to have them arrested for fraud. I suspect ..." He ran the tip of his finger along his eating bowl. "They're mere Samilis."

Dahoud, himself a Samili, refused to react to the jab. Govan was not only satrap of the province, but Dahoud's employer, as well as the father of the lovely Esha.

"Samilis are everywhere these days." Peering down his nose, Govan swirled the wine in his beaker. "Not that I have anything against Samilis. Given the right kind of education, their race can develop remarkable intelligence, practically equal to that of Quislakis. They can make valuable contributions to society." He stroked the purple fringe of his armband, insignia of his rank. "Provided they respect their betters."

The other clerks at the table bobbed their chins in eager agreement.

Dahoud the Black Besieger would not have tolerated taunts from this pompous peacock, but Dahoud the council clerk had to bow. Submission was the price for guarding his secret.


1. In what way is your MC an 'underdog'? Identify at least one context, and think about how you can play this up early in the book.

2. Find a quick way to show the MC helping someone else in the first scene.

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