Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Main Characteristics About the Main Characters We Write

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Stories are plot driven or character driven, and even better when you create a story that is plot and character driven.

Plot is what people do and why they do it. Character is the internal organization and structure of a person that motivates how the character responds to external pressures. In story, the writer places a specific personality into a specific setting and the reader follows as the character reacts and responds. 

Generally, the principle players in a story consist of 
  • Main character
  • Sidekick
  • Antagonist
  • Mentor
Consider your audience as you assemble a main character. When writing about a real person, see that person through the eyes of your reader. What is your reader’s age, education level, faith, gender, and interests?
  • Male readers tend to prefer to read about a male protagonist
  • Female readers generally are happy to read about a male or female protagonist
  • Female protagonists tend to have a larger female audience
  • Youth are eager to be older and read about older characters who are in the next stage of life. For instance, middle schoolers want to read about those in high school 
Will your main character be human or animal? E. B. White made a writing career with main characters from the animal kingdom including the spider Charlotte Cavatica of Charlotte’s Web, a mouse named Stuart in Stuart Little, and Louis the swan in Trumpet of the Swan.

Popular main characters who are animals include
  • Bambi in Bambi
  • Fiver and Hazel, rabbits in Watership Down
  • Hank in the Hank the Cowdog series 
  • Mrs. Frisbee in Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH
  • Peter of Peter Rabbit
  • Simba of Lion King
  • Winnie the Pooh in the Winnie the Pooh series 
Human main characters come in all ages and from everywhere on the globe. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie series
  • Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
  • Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind
  • Tom Sawyer in Tom Sawyer
  • Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
  • Wang Lung in The Good Earth
  • Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird
Some protagonists are from different worlds of the author’s imagination.
  • Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games
  • Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings
  • Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time
  • Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Tris Prior of the Divergent series
Main characters who live in our memories and in popular culture long after we finished reading the book are relatable to the reader. They are not perfect but share characteristics that mirror our own. 

Far from flawless, Harry Potter was relatable to readers. He was 
  • a young hero 
  • scholarly looking in his glasses 
  • filled with curiosity
  • experienced real emotions 
  • had solemn intelligence
  • delighted in discovery 
  • longed deeply for family 
What is your character good at? Kya Clark of Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is skilled at observing nature. This ability becomes her way to support herself. Percy Blakeney in Scarlet Pimpernel is a natural actor, a strength that allows him to save lives. Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan in The Help employs her stubborn sense of justice to confront social norms. 

What is your character most afraid of? What is your character’s kryptonite? For Mallory Wayne in The Patent, she fears looking incompetent and losing her last family member. In The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes, Jennifer Stirling is afraid to be treated as an outcast by family and friends. A character’s fears are core to how your character acts. Those fears are also a relatable touchpoint with your reader.

What is unique about your main character? While all people look fairly alike having a head and shoulders, knees and toes, describe the traits that set your character apart. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt has aquamarine eyes. Mr. Dodson in Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been has one eye higher than the other. Sherlock Holmes is socially inept and quirky.

Does he wear a ponytail and ride his bike to work like patent attorney Marc Wayne in The Patent? Does he have hands ragged and scarred with black nails and a sabre cut across his cheek like Captain Long John Silver in Treasure Island? Can she slide up the staircase banister like Mary Poppins?

When creating your main character, whether the character is real or made-up, ask yourself these questions.
  • Who is your audience? 
  • Is your character animal or human?
  • What is your character good at?
  • What is your character afraid of?
  • What relatable traits does your character have?
  • What unique characteristics does your character have?

Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells


  1. Thanks for the solid information!

  2. I may have learned a thing or two from you, DiAnn :) Thank you! The more we write, the deeper we get into the craft.

  3. Great information, PeggySue. Thank you.

  4. Thank you, Kay. Hope it helps put on paper those characters who live in our minds.