The Secret to Writing Good Characters

Ben Wiseman Illustration NYTCharacters make or break a novel, especially for agents. When agents get 100s of manuscripts submitted per month, what is it that draws us to some books and not others? Characters.

What agents look for in a main character:

  • Degree of likability
  • Interesting
  • Honest
  • Have a strong and unique voice
  • They feel like they had a real life before the book started and after the pages are done
  • No coincidences
  • Motivation for what they do
  • That we meet them at an interesting point in their lives
  • Most importantly: They must have a secret. What are they hiding?

All strong and interesting characters carry a secret with them. A secret that is slowly revealed to the reader. A secret that some find controversial always helps. A secret that the character has to explain and is the reason why they do what they do and why they are the way they are. And remember: the best secrets impact more lives than one.

Further Reading:

30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character

Image: Ben Wiseman NYT


5 thoughts on “The Secret to Writing Good Characters

  1. Great post (as always). Thanks a lot. I’m going to run through this checklist now and apply it to my characters. I may even use that as a basis for a blog post, so thanks again. In return, I’ll reblog this post, if you don’t mind…


  2. For ideas, an author posted a request for people’s deepest secrets on her FB page, telling them she’d keep their identity hidden. One person admitted her part in beating up a classmate when the teacher stepped out. The fact that this woman cheered, “Hang him! Hang him!” as they hoisted the boy over the door with a noose around his neck has been something she silently carries in her heart. The author worked this into her novel.


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