How to Create an Attractive Character

Image courtesy of sritenou, from stock.xchng

So after reading about the hazards of Designated Love Interests, you still want to tell a love story. Now that’s dedication. But authorial stubbornness alone isn’t going to win a character’s heart, or make an in-story romance convincing. The character needs to be attractive to the audience, be they gamers or readers. But how?

  • Rule Number One: Anyone meant to be a love interest must be a standalone character first. She should have a distinct personality, likes and dislike, goals, dreams (and before we go on, if the only goal or dream is “Win the heart of [insert character here]”, that does not count!), and anything else you would put into a primary character. And she should stay that way. I cannot even begin to emphasize how important this is to the creation and success of such a character.
  • Rule Number Two: She should have at least one quality known to be attractive to the target character that is not appearance. Preferably more. This is important. For one thing, good looks are cheap; they don’t take much investment on the part of the creator. But dry wit, compassion, patience, dedication, a sense of humor, understanding—those have to be shown and not just told, and they’re what win the hearts of your audience, reader and PC alike. Make that personality glow.
  • Rule Number Three: If there is a “rest of the group”, be that other PCs in a game or an ensemble cast in a story, she needs to be able to get and hold their respect. This doesn’t always have to mean competence in all things; a flawless character is as dull as a useless one and at least as annoying. But if she’s going to have prolonged exposure to a group, they’re going to have to be able to put up with her. And this goes double when the love interest is technically an enemy, because then you have issues of divided loyalty, and potential betrayal, and things that people who are trying to save the world really don’t want to have to deal with on top of everything else. I, for one, have lost track of how many people’s Designated Love Interests I’ve hated on sight.
  • Rule Number Four: The qualities by which a love interest follows the above rules should be shown and not told. I’m not going to believe a character is dedicated to a goal if she decides her newfound love is more important than the project she was putting her entire life into last week, nor intelligent if she walks into a trap I saw coming two leagues away in a snowstorm. People will form impressions of the character they see, not the character they’re told to see.
  • Rule Number Five: Don’t get complacent! A previously attractive character who loses her personality once the relationship is established, turns into a fountain of devotion to the target character and not much else, or otherwise ceases to grow, change and assert independence once happily linked is not going to be able to keep the relationship going. Everyone worries about losing their significant others when their looks fade, and that’s a natural process; if what attracted the target to the character is something timeless and/or some variation on uniqueness, how much more repulsed is he going to be when she no longer has that? At best, he’ll just begin losing interest. At worst, he’ll reject this walking blob of jellied romantic platitudes for keeping him back. (Now granted, this could make a very interesting story in its own right, particularly if she realizes this is what’s going on and starts looking for her old identity back….)

A truly attractive character will do amazing things for the story and for people’s motivations. You just have to make sure she’s the real thing, and not the plot’s shadow-puppet. Keep that in mind.

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