How To Write Complex And Consistent Characters (8 Tips)

In this article, we discuss ideas surrounding a reader's question: How to write complex and consistent characters?

What makes a character complex?

A complex character has attitudes and motivations that come from a backstory that reflects their emotional experiences. You need these qualities to create a realistic personality that is imperfect, sometimes contradictory, and most of all—engaging.

In real life, everyone is a walking contradiction. We've all done things that go against our beliefs. This is what makes someone interesting.

Example: A villain who isn't entirely evil or a good guy who isn't entirely good.

However, many storytellers only create one-dimensional, shallow characters who don't change as the story progresses. This is a recipe for a lackluster story.

Before we get into how to create a complex character, let's start with the different types of characters there are.

5 Different Types of Characters

The following is a list of some of the most common types of characters:


The protagonist is the main character, meaning the story usually revolves around him and his point of view.

Many stories have only one protagonist, while others have several.

The Hero, for example, is a mythical archetype that often appears in fantasy and science fiction sagas and is usually placed as the protagonist of stories. Writing heroic characters is one of the best-known tactics in storytelling.

Examples of stories with more than one protagonist: Game of Thrones, La Casa de Papel, Eleanor & Park.


Also known often as a sidekick, is the second most important character in the story. Generally, he has a very close relationship with the protagonist and accompanies him on his journey. In some stories, he provides comic relief to the narrative.

Examples: Ron and Hermione (Harry Potter saga), Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King), and Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games).


The antagonist is that which opposes the protagonist. He is not always present in all narratives and is not necessarily human. The antagonist can be an object or a force that serves as an obstacle.

Examples: Scar (Lion King) and Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter).


The opponent is often a partner of the antagonist. He is also a force that opposes the protagonist but has a little less prominence. It is essential to point out that not all antagonists and opponents are continuous obstacles: they can often change sides.

Examples: Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter) and Bronn of the Blackwater (Game of Thrones)


The supporting characters are less prominent than the characters mentioned above. This is because he assists in the development of the plot and has some relationships with the most important characters, but they do not appear very frequently in the story.

Examples: Rafiki (The Lion King) and Finnick (The Hunger Games).


8 Tips on How To Write Complex And Consistent Characters

The following is a list of tips on how to write complex characters:

1. Give the character motivation and purpose

It is critical to create a motivation or a goal that is a driving force for your character. These two factors also help the audience to understand the reason for their actions.

For example, a character who acts immorally can be seen in a new light when the audience discovers his motivations and reasons for those immoral acts.

Some questions to think about when creating motivation:

  • What does my character want?
  • Why does he want this?
  • How will he try to achieve his goal? What attitudes will he have?

If your character doesn't have reasons that make sense, the audience won't "buy" your story. Many plot holes arise because the author did not consider his characters' motivations.

2. Create a backstory

A backstory is a story that tells a character's past, explaining their personal lore to the audience. Even if they are not directly mentioned in the plot, they are vital for you to be able to write consistent characters.

To build a character, you must know everything about him, including his past. So take care to write a backstory as detailed as possible.

JK Rowling, for example, has created a complete backstory for Professor McGonagall, a supporting character in Harry Potter. This information never appeared in the books, but it helped her to write the teacher and to base her attitudes and dialogues on her past.

3. Think about your strengths and weaknesses

No human being is perfect and the same goes for fictional characters. So to write characters that have strengths, flaws, and weaknesses.

Character weaknesses and flaws often cause conflict in stories, which is excellent for moving a narrative forward. They can exist from the start and improve during the development of your plot—or the opposite; they can appear mid-journey and get worse over time.

4. Define your values ​​and beliefs

In addition to thinking about a character's qualities and flaws, you need to consider their beliefs and values. These internal characteristics will also define how your character will act.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does my character believe in?
  • What are there political, religious, and philosophical biases?
  • What do they approve and condemn?
  • What is most important to them?

It is precisely here where contradictions can arise.

5. Give them contradictions

When you make a character act contrary to their beliefs and values, things inevitably get interesting.

Having contradictory ideas, thoughts and attitudes does not necessarily mean someone is a hypocrite. Instead, these traits will add more complex layers to your characters and can make the audience sympathize with an antagonist or pick up on a hero's flaws.

The great paradox of this phenomenon is that contradictory characters make the audience have contradictory feelings. Suddenly, you find yourself rooting for a villain to achieve his goal and win, even if your personal beliefs as a spectator don't support it.

That's part of the fun in storytelling.

6. Beware of arcs that don't make sense

While contradictions are essential in building complex characters, this DOES NOT mean you can make them act haphazardly without reason.

If your character has contradictions, you need to signal that in the story early on, even if it's subtly. This is why throwing clues in the middle of the plot is critical. Otherwise, your audience won't get a sense of satisfaction from your character's development.

7. Search, search and search

If you're a writer, you should know that field research is essential to creating stories. And the same goes for the characters, especially if they have suffered some tragic experience, have some illness, etc.

For example, if your protagonist is a ballerina, you will have to research the routine of these dancers: how they eat, how they exercise, how long they train, and how they relate.

The same goes for characters with depression, anxiety, addiction, or other serious illnesses. You can't just write "on the fly," as there is always some subject matter expert who will criticize you if the facts don't match reality.

8. Create a diverse cast

Take advantage of the varied human experiences a diverse cast of characters has to offer.

There are some stories only certain races, ethnicities, and gender identities can have.

This also gives you the chance to bring genuine awareness and proper representation to minority groups.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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