How to Write a Larger Than Life Character

How to Create a Larger-Than-Life Character

This week’s video talks about how to create full-on awesome characters without losing readers’ suspension of disbelief.

Video Transcript:

One thing we’re always focusing on, as authors, is creating realistic characters. We want them to realistically flawed. Nothing is worse than an indomitable, invulnerable, immortal, invincible goody two-shoes who’s better than everybody else and wins every battle. Snore. In fact, can we just throw our popcorn at his head and get it over with? But, as always, there’s an opposite side of this to consider.

Most readers, myself included, appreciate realistic characters. But we also love larger-than-life characters. We love to read about heroes who have what it takes to win and win big. We’re talking people who are smart, strong, gorgeous, skilled, powerful. I got to tell you, it’s an absolute joy to read to about a protagonist who you know is the most fearsome person in whatever room he happens to walk into.

One of my favorite fantasy authors, Brent Weeks, is a master of this. His protagonists aren’t just larger than life—they’re ginormous. Weeks has a couple secrets for how he’s pulling this off.

To begin within, he keeps these tremendously larger-than-life characters from becoming annoyingly perfect by making certain they’re weighed down with appropriately large flaws and vulnerabilities. For all that these people are basically supermen, they’re also exceedingly human at their cores.

The second trick is that Weeks is making his antagonists just as strong, and sometimes stronger, than his protagonists. This is a really important point, because as much as you want your main character to conquer, you have to present him with an obstacle formidable enough to stymie him for most of your book. It’s the old Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object Paradox.

So, to sum up, perfect characters=not so good. Unstoppable characters=very bad. Larger-than-life characters with larger-than-life flaws and problems=awesome.

Tell me your opinion: How do you make your protagonist larger than life?

How to Create a Larger-Than-Life Character

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Great post, and encouraging. I didn’t know I was on the right track with this. I gave my hero one thing that he does crazy-better than anyone else. Now I just have to work on the flaw.

  2. Having a super-human as a protag automatically means she’s a little larger than life. Giving her insecurities makes her personable.

    One of my favorite larger-than-life characters is in the J.D. Robb “In Death” series, which is, for the majority of the series, the MC’s husband, Roarke. He’s suave, powerful (in more than one way), and incredibly handsome. But, the way he keeps a button from one of his wife’s suits in his pocket is so completely sweet and human brings him down to earth.

  3. @Evelyn: I love reading about characters who are super skilled at something. It’s a joy to participate in their excellence.

    @Liberty: Superheroes’ innate larger-than-life-ness is probably one of the reasons I like the genre so much!

  4. They just sort of automatically become larger than life. I have a hard time writing normal people. I always just end up making them larger than life, like Indiana Jones or Aragorn, basically.

  5. Hard to beat Indy and Aragorn! 🙂

  6. Larger-than-life passion is easy to relate to. When our characters are highly empathetic and energetic about their goals, the audience will be hooked.

    Yet like an honest audience member, characters will make mistakes and see their flaws exposed when they act with such vigorous passion.

    Thanks for pointing this out – it made me realize that some of the characters I’m currently creating aren’t passionate, energetic, or flawed enough. I’ve got work to do!

  7. You raise a good point: the bigger the scope of our characters (the bigger their goals, the bigger the stakes), the bigger the potential for big mistakes. It all comes with the territory.

  8. Each of my “main” characters in my WIP are proficient at something (whether it be a power, skill, or simply a presence), but I made sure to give each of them some sort of flaw that is either very relatable to the average reader or can be there to add the conflict that is necessary to the interest of the story. I find it hard to even write a “perfect” character, because there is no such thing as a perfect person in real life, and I struggle to even imagine what that could be like 😉

    You have me interested in Brent Weeks now – which of his books would you recommend?

  9. I adore Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy (and his Lightbringer trilogy is starting out pretty awesome too). But I will caveat my recommendation with the warning that he’s not for the easily offended: lots of violence, lots of language, and lots of thematic elements.

  10. Thanks again for making some helpful points.

  11. Thanks for reading!

  12. Good advice! I agree that flaws and quirks and complexity help to make the character… and through all those, the character has to be consistent too.

    For my writing practice, I find it very helpful to fully sketch out the character — way beyond what I would ever put on the page — so that I know a lot more about the character than I’d ever show (the iceberg effect). All this background informs the character and makes him or her much more real.

    Your connection between flaws/weaknesses and obstacles is the perfect description of how character meets/shapes/creates plot. Thanks!

  13. What I call character interviews or sketches are my favorite part of the prep process. I write detailed dossiers of all my main characters. Never know what you’re going to discover!

  14. Hi K.M.

    Good fiction is all about making the whole story realistic. I love to read about characters who could be my neighbours. Realism is how the readers identify with the story.

  15. While my main character grew up, her father was preparing to enter the fashion industry. So she was around as he drew sketches and sewed outfits together and picked up on these skills. She becomes an incredible artist, but she doubts her skills.

    In my next WIP, my main character can wield a katana pretty well, but he doesn’t want to hurt people because he was originally a veterinarian student.

  16. @LK: If we’re able to take even the highly unrealistic (as we do in, say, fantasy) and make it relatable to readers, we know we’ve done something special.

    @Josh: A little self-doubt can do wonders in humanizing a character.

  17. I like powerful characters and to explore the flip-side of power: having power complicates a character’s life and they probably don’t want it and there’s a whole of side effects and sacrifices tied up in that.

    Then again, my whole personal strategy of characterization is to mentally take a character and throw everything at them possible to break them emotionally, physically, mentally, and sometimes spiritually and see how they rise to the occasion. In the rising to it, they become larger than life. Backstory/character in place, then I can use them in a story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a good strategy! Find the character’s weakness and torture him until he turns it into a strength. It’s the classic transformation arc.

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  1. […] How to Create Larger Than Life Characters. One thing we’re always focusing on, as authors, is creating realistic characters. […]

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