Character Fairy Dust

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What makes a character unforgettable? You know the ones I mean—the hero who makes you want to be a better, smarter, cooler person; the villain that keeps you awake at night; the side-kick who captured your imagination.
I’ve received tons of advice on how to make a character likeable. I’ve followed all of it, but have never quite been satisfied with the results. And so began my quest for Character Fairy Dust—that magical ingredient to elevate my characters from predictable to iconic. While I’ve yet to find one all-encompassing formula, I have discovered a few truths that work for me.

  • All characters, regardless of hat colour, benefit from being written in “shades of grey”. No one is perfectly good or perfectly evil, or even perfectly stereotypical, so characters shouldn’t be either. Sometimes good people make bad choices. A villain can still antagonize your main character while otherwise seeming an upstanding citizen. Who’s scarier—your kid’s favourite babysitter who is secretly a serial killer, or a known ‘mad-scientist’ who keeps himself locked in his isolated castle in the forest?
  • Contradictions and obsessions create conflict and make characters interesting. For example, my playboy character “kisses like a fish”. Confusion over how that’s even possible makes the reader question their assumptions and guess at what else about him they may be surprised by. What does your ‘neat-freak’ have hidden in his/her junk drawer?
  • I rely heavily on dialogue to move my story along. If each of my characters didn’t have a distinct voice or viewpoint, the text would be littered with he saids and she saids. Some of my characters are witty, some direct, some shy, heavily accented, or speak in clichés or catch phrases. Some are even silent.
  • At least once in my text a main character will solve a problem in an unexpected way—oh the things MacGyver could do with a paperclip and chewed gum…

How do you make your characters live on in your reader’s mind?


Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

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