Certain characters will always hold a special place in our hearts. Plot plays a huge role in getting the interest of the reader—but so do characters. Characters bring the readers on the journey. They are essential in capturing interest, so it’s important to have characters that readers want to go on the journey with. You may wonder: how do I make my characters more likeable?

There is no universal formula to make your characters likeable. Readers look for something that resonates with them, whether that be personality, future goals, interests, etc. It comes down to the details. When there is more to your character, it will catch the interest of the reader. Take a look at some of your favorite characters and think: what makes me like them so much?

Note: Not all characters have to be likeable. If you have a villain or trickster character, you may not want them to be as well-liked as the hero of the story. These tips are for characters you want the readers to care about.*

1. Reactions

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People can connect to one another through reactions, and characters are no different. Before you start amping up their response after hearing some great news, try to give them some realistic reactions. If a character just found out they were switched at birth—they’d most likely be surprised, sad, maybe even angry. Readers love to dip into the emotional aspect of characters since it’s what they can connect with, so make sure your characters have reactions that they can relate to (or at least understand).

2. Agency

nasim pedrad snl GIF by Saturday Night LiveIt can be painful to read a story about a push-over who never seems to stand-up for themselves. This can lose the reader’s interest. Even if your character is passive by nature, think about giving them some agency. People are attracted to others that know how to stand-up for themselves or their beliefs. If your story is geared toward a younger audience, the characters should reflect similar views they can understand. It could solidify the character and their motivations.

3. Sympathy

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When it comes to villains, feel free to make them as nasty as possible. But heroes need be sympathetic. If there is a cat stuck in the tree, you want your character to be the one to save it. People tend to care more for others that are able to show sympathy. It’s also important to keep your audience in mind. If your story is geared toward a teen audience, give your characters a teenage-like moral code. They may not be the nicest—or most sympathetic character—but it could help the audience understand them better.

4. Modesty

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Nobody likes a bragger, that includes fictional characters. It’s hard to listen—let alone read—about a character who only thinks and talks about themselves. Characters that are modest—or at least not entirely self-absorbed—are the most relatable. Instead of bragging about their superpowers, they hide it for the good of the world. When they’re modest, you want to learn more about them. It brings a sense of mystery and that’s very alluring.

5. Sense of humor

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Think about your checklist when it comes to qualities you look for in a partner. A sense of humor is usually high on the list. Whether that be their ability to tell jokes or ability to take them, a sense of humor is important. It makes a character interesting and relatable. Plus, everybody loves the funny guy. Readers adore a character that can make them laugh because it makes them fun. This can be done through dialogue where the character makes some witty or sarcastic remark. No matter how grave the situation is, a bit of humor is always appreciated.

6. Individuality

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Often when someone describes their favorite character, it’s because they’re not like the others. Something about them is interesting, unusual. It can be as small as their charisma or style. People want to be friends with your character because of the way they light up when talking about their passion, or a small detail about how they only eat sandwiches with the crust off. It breaks through the cookie-cutter character mold, making them stand out individually. This can be done through quirks and traits that make them unique.

7. Relatability

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People tend to be more interested in attractive people. However, if your character is too perfect-looking, the audience may hate them. Give your character at least one stand-out feature—big blue eyes, silky hair, a great smile, etc. But don’t forget to give them a flaw too, even if it’s only a flaw in their own mind. A crooked nose, freckles, and untamable curls are great examples of features a character might dislike about themselves, but that other characters and the audience might find appealing. Make them just good-looking enough that a reader will fall for them as though they were real. What love is more powerful than a fictional crush?

Who are some of your favorite characters? And what makes them so likeable to you?

*some of these will also apply to villains and unlikable characters as well. For a more complete guide on fleshing out your villain, click here.