Posted On April 26, 2017 by Print This Post

Top Five Character Pitfalls and Ways to Avoid Them by Robin Gianna

I’m excited to welcome back author ROBIN GIANNA! Read on to find out about Robin’s two-book giveaway!

Hi! I’m so glad to be back at Romance University! Today, I’m talking about:

 Top Five Character Pitfalls and Ways to Avoid Them


You already know that one of the most important things to get right as you’re building a story is to create believable characters that the reader will care about and root for. I’ll bet you’ve read a lot of books that didn’t hold your interest, and were easy to put down and never get back to. To me, that almost never has anything to do with the plot, but everything to do with who’s in that story.


There are as many ways to dig deep into your characters as there are opinions on the best way to plot!  I spend time thinking about the character’s history which includes his or her inner wound, what the character wants in the story, why he wants it, and what’s making it hard for her to get what she wants.  Deb Dixon coined it GMC—Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and it’s the bedrock of any story.


In the process of figuring out who your characters are, and throughout the book as they move through the story, think about the five pitfalls I list below.  Any one of them will make the people who inhabit your story either unbelievable or uninteresting, and the story ultimately unsatisfying.


  1. Heroes who are too good

You want to create a character readers can feel empathy for.  Someone who elicits feelings of admiration and connection. But it’s important to recognize that your hero (and heroine) must have flaws, too. They have strengths, weaknesses, and needs they often don’t acknowledge that sometimes get them in trouble. They might not even be aware of these traits at all. When they act a certain way, they might give a reason for their behavior that they truly believe, but often it’s not the real reason (but you, the author, know why!). That reason could be a deep-rooted fear, pain from the past, or any number of beliefs that came about somewhere in their life history.  When developing characters with depth, decide on what their flaws and character traits are, then force them to face these at points in the story when things are going well, when their needs aren’t being fulfilled, or when they’re facing setbacks in achieving that all-important goal.


  1. Characters with no conflict

Just as a story without external conflict isn’t very interesting, characters without internal conflict aren’t particularly interesting either.  A story isn’t going to be compelling if a character doesn’t have a specific goal or goals that are hard to accomplish, possibly because of the above mentioned flaw or weakness. It’s also boring if they have a problem, but then each time they deal with it, they get everything they want too easily. You don’t want them going through scene after scene feeling pretty happy and content, without conflicted feelings from wanting two things at the same time that are mutually exclusive. That’s internal conflict, and that’s what keeps readers turning the pages.


  1. Antagonists that are two dimensional

There are a lot of books (and movies) out there with antagonists who come across as pretty cartoonish. They’re bad just because they are. We never learn much about them. We never really know why they want to rob that bank or kill someone or keep the hero from getting what he wants.  Put as much time into exploring your antagonists as your heroes. Know who they are, and not only what they want, but WHY they want it. The character shouldn’t view himself as a villain, but as a person who’s doing what he has to do—showing that to the reader will make the character seem much more real. Also, when the reader understands who the antagonist really is and why they’re a formidable foe, it makes the hero seem a lot more heroic having to deal with him or her.


  1. Characters that don’t change

If a character is the same person at the end of the book as they are at the beginning, you haven’t created a satisfying journey for them, or for your reader. Show at the beginning who they are in their everyday lives. Then make them deal with obstacles and problems that force them to face their flaws and preconceived attitudes about what they want, and why.  By the end of the book, they should have done something they never thought they’d do and come out a better person for it.



  1. Having characters that all seem too similar

We all have our own voice, and it takes an effort to make sure our characters don’t all talk like us, walk like us, act like us. They need to come across to the reader as distinct from one another. If you’re struggling with this, a good exercise is to go sit in a coffee shop and eavesdrop.  Listen to women, men and children talk. Watch people coming and going, how they sit in their chairs, how they eat or work. Make notes about how they differ from one another, and how some stand out. Also think about friends and relatives, or actors and actresses you like, and study how they sound and move. Getting those visuals and voices in your head as you write can really help differentiate one character from another, and enrich your story.







I’d love to hear your suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls I mention, or an additional character pitfall you think is important!  I’ll be giving away two books to a winning commenter: my September 2016 release, Reunited With His Runaway Bride, and my March 2017 release, Baby Surprise For The Doctor Prince.



After completing a degree in journalism, working in advertising and mothering her kids, Robin Gianna had what she calls her Awakening. She decided she wanted to write the romance novels she’d loved since her teens. Now she enjoys pushing her characters toward their own happily-ever-afters. When she’s not writing, Robin’s life is filled with a happily messy kitchen, a needy garden, a wonderful husband, three great kids, a drooling bulldog and one grouchy Siamese cat.

Links to my website, FB, and Twitter:



Their royal bundle of joy!

Two months after her breathtaking night with Prince Enzo Affini, nurse Aubrey Henderson arrives in Venice to discover he’s her new boss. And even more shocking? The news she’s carrying his royal baby!

Guarded doctor Enzo has long protected his legacy—and his heart. He’s determined not to trust his attraction to irresistible, spirited Aubrey. But as their baby grows, so, too, does their undeniable connection…and a longing for a happy-ever-after that neither can deny!




Robin will give away two signed print copies of her books to one winner selected from today’s commenters. The winner will receive a copy of REUNITED WITH HIS RUNAWAY BRIDE (published September 2016) and a copy of BABY SURPRISE FOR THE DOCTOR PRINCE (published March 2017).

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20 Responses to “Top Five Character Pitfalls and Ways to Avoid Them by Robin Gianna”

  1. I’m tweeting now and sharing this on Story Empire’s weekly post (Friday) with links for industry tips. This post offers great advice. All five points are spot-on.

    Of the five options, my biggest pet peeve is the evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil villain. Someone once said that the villain should be the hero of his own story, and by keeping that in mind and sprinkling in a little of his backstory and motivation, the bad guy will be well developed, which makes the whole story richer.

    Great post, Robin.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | April 26, 2017, 8:14 am
    • Hi Staci – I have trouble writing believable villains. I think Snidely Whiplash has taken residence in that portion of my brain.

      I’ve read that about the villain being the hero of his own story, but my problem is they are STILL flicking their mustaches in my stories. And the female villains are flicking their whips. *sigh*

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 26, 2017, 9:24 am
      • Becke, you have me laughing so hard, my dogs are looking at me like it’s playtime! Snidely Whiplash… too funny!

        There’s probably nothing wrong with mustache-twirling or whip-cracking, provided they have a reason to do so other than gleeful violence. You’re creative; I bet you can come up with a great reason why.

        Posted by Staci Troilo | May 2, 2017, 9:58 am
    • I love ‘The hero of his own story’ Staci! That’s exactly it! it’s always surprising to me how often the reader isn’t given a sense of that in some books and many movies.

      Thanks so much for your comment, and for sharing!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | April 26, 2017, 9:25 am
  2. Hi Robin!!!

    I’d just like to expound on #1. Make sure when you’re giving your hero some flaws, that you don’t make them unlikeable. Such a fine line, isn’t it?

    Posted by Stacy McKitrick | April 26, 2017, 8:15 am
    • That’s a good point, Stacy, and it can be a fine line! Somehow weaving in the character’s flaws while still making him heroic and likable isn’t easy.

      Thanks so much for your comment! 🙂

      Posted by Robin Gianna | April 26, 2017, 9:26 am
    • Hi Stacy! Great to see you here! I agree, it’s a balancing act to give characters flaws without making readers dislike them. Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a great job of that in AIN’T SHE SWEET. I think we see the almost-unlikeable heroes more often in historical romances than in contemporary. EXCEPT for a great debut novel I read a few months ago – it’s called THE HATING GAME. I recommend it!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 26, 2017, 9:28 am
  3. Loved this article! Right on time tips for me!!

    Posted by Alexandria House | April 26, 2017, 8:45 am
  4. Thanks, Robin. Much of what you wrote we’ve heard before, but the succint and direct list was helpful and is making me think about some minor revisions to my wip. And I, too, get super annoyed by cartoon-like villains, especially the female variety!

    Posted by Margaret | April 26, 2017, 9:12 am
    • I have to think about every one of those things each time I’m digging into a character, Margaret! It would be nice for it to become second nature, but each book is different, isn’t it? Thanks so much for stopping by! xoxo

      Posted by Robin Gianna | April 26, 2017, 9:28 am
  5. Thanks so much for this great post, Robin! I’ve already bookmarked it. I like your comment about “second nature,” and I wish my brain could be programmed that way. You’d think after awhile some things would be automatic, but I don’t think that happens to writers very often!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 26, 2017, 9:31 am
    • It doesn’t seem to be the case for me, Becke – unfortunately! In fact, my tenth book for Harlequin Mills&Boon was just accepted, and I swear the whole thing felt like a huge learning curve, for some reason! But I have a feeling that’s true for most writers 🙂

      Posted by Robin Gianna | April 26, 2017, 10:21 am
  6. I particularly like the point about characters not changing.

    Posted by Barbara | April 27, 2017, 5:11 am
    • That is an important one, Barbara, and even when I think I’m clear on how they need to change, sometimes when I’m heading toward ‘The End’ I realize I need to make it better.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Posted by Robin Gianna | April 27, 2017, 8:30 am
  7. It’s hard to remember all of your good advice when you’re zipping along in your writing, but it’s so important. At first, I had such trouble creating conflict for my beloved characters. I didn’t want to see them hurt or broken, but I don’t have that problem anymore. It’s like, “how bad can I make it for them short of their own death?” I’m still working on a 3-dimensional antagonist. I guess they are as determined to do what they believe is right as the hero/heroine are. Just a difference in thinking. Everyone wants to be accepted. I love to use Enneagrams to predict how a character will change and what their fatal flaws are. That way I know how to construct their arc and how they might change during the story. Thanks for your article.

    Posted by Carol Malone | April 27, 2017, 2:02 pm

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