What makes a character relatable?

This has been said over and over again, a thousand times, and without cessation. Flaws make a character relatable. Funny enough, for myself, it’s not a word in WordPress’ dictionary. However, I digress. (A fancy word for, but that’s not related to the topic, though I’m sure you know that.) What kind of flaws are we talking about though? Are there other ways to make someone relatable? The answers? Everything and yes.

Part of me wants to tackle the second question first, but we’re sticking to flaws. An example from one of my projects (being slowly reworked because I realized how terribly I started it) is that we have a hero. The magic of the world is built in an old language, called runes. Different runes do different things, and yadda yadda, the hero is considered a master. However, he admits to himself, that he really isn’t, and he cheated to get there. How many people cheat on exams? Lie? Everyone (Or so we tell ourselves… Maybe?). At the least you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t done one or the other. He’s also forced to take on an apprentice, and I say forced, because he’s rebelling against the system he’s a part of. We all try to be different and unique in our own ways (usually). The short of it is that he’s only around because he’s considered a master, and if people knew the truth, he’d be out and/or dead, and while he wants to redeem himself, he’s not in a position too, and so we have someone caught in a lie that’s out of control.

Other ways to relate are basically journal entries from characters, getting really into their heads and plainly spelling out on the page the way they think. It’s not the greatest method, but in certain quantities and forms, it’s a powerful way for us to understand the inner workings of tough characters.

The third, and I hate this way, is to have a character so plain, that they can be easily replaced with yourself (Bella from Twilight). While it does make a character relatable, it’s also a way to bring the story quality down.

Then there’s hypocrisies. These are a favorite, because when done well, they really shine through in a character. Say you have a misogynist (sorry ladies), who also follows a code of chivalry. Sure he doesn’t like women, but he will go out of his way to save and/or help them if he can. It can be something simple too, like they hate rice, unless it’s pork fried rice. Super religious and marries an atheist. Hates working out, but continues to go out of habit. These things make a character.

The final one I want to point out, isn’t just flaws, but fears. Fear of heights, spiders, crowds, closed spaces, clowns, etc. makes people relatable on some level. Someone out there can relate to your character at a primal, self preserving level, even if it’s due to xanthophobia (look it up).

I don’t want to conclude this, so I’m leaving it open to more examples and ways for the rest of you.


About writing underdog

I'm an aspiring writer of fantasy and science fiction. I graduated from a university with a degree in Writing and a minor in Philosophy. I try to learn a little about everything. I hope to update regularly, meaning at least once per week. View all posts by writing underdog

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