Writing Tips

How to Use Marketing 101 to Write Great Characters

Most writers don’t think about marketing unless it’s about how to sell your book, and even then they associate it with social media and getting the word out.

But the crux of marketing delves into psychology and why we make the decisions we do. Writers can use marketing principles surrounding motivation, needs, and wants to create well-rounded characters and “sell” those characters to an eager audience.

I’m in a marketing class right now, and here are some of my class notes and how they apply to creating memorable characters:

1. Motivation is produced by tension and unfulfilled needs.

Mulan disguised herself as a man because she needed to save her father’s life and because she didn’t feel accepted as a bride of “honor.” Artemis Fowl wanted the fairies’ technology and to become master of a criminal empire in the absence of his parents. Holly Golightly wanted to have fun in New York and needed to be something more sophisticated than the poor girl she grew up as.

A character’s driving force often comes from something unfulfilled in their past. Mulan joined the army, Artemis kidnapped a fairy for ransom, and Holly fluttered around New York City making witty remarks. All well-written stories are inherently character-based because characters’ actions are what drives the plot forward.

Likewise, readers are motivated to finish a story if the characters fulfill something within themselves. Anyone with a secret thirst for adventure beyond the ordinary would get lost in Mulan or Artemis Fowl, while those secretly dreaming of living in café society would read Breakfast at Tiffany’s over and over. Find what your characters would bring out and fulfill in your readers, and readers will never put the book down.

2. Marketers can’t create need, but they can make consumers aware of needs.

Replace marketers with writers or creators. You can’t make someone want to disguise themselves and join the Chinese army, but you can make them aware (however self-consciously) that if they are brave enough, they can fight for their family, and if they don’t feel like they fit in, they can be a hero and stand out.

You can also pull them into stories they wouldn’t choose first. I’m more of a fantasy nut than anyone who’d pick up a book about New York café society, but Holly’s funny quips and carefree approach to life made me want to take off to a big city and live fabulously on my own terms.

3. The Good news: Motivation is dynamic, fluid, and ever-changing.

Human beings evolve as circumstances change, which means their needs will change as well. For example, Artemis Fowl eventually befriended the fairy he’d kidnapped, and pushed his motivation past world domination and more towards protecting the world of the fairies.

One effective way to carry readers through your story is to have their motivation evolve from a self-centered need to a broader, selfless need. Mulan, for example, started out wanting to save her father, but ended up fighting to save all of China. Showing how a character starts caring for others beyond themselves and close friends can make for a heroic evolution and development, especially in fantasy.

4. The Bad news: Needs are never fully met.

Marketing establishes that no matter how happy someone might become after purchasing a product, their attention can shift towards something else. Yes, you bought nice clothes, but now you might want nice shoes or new accessories.

This piece of advice becomes especially true when writing a sequel or series. Human beings, by nature, are rarely if every fully satisfied, which means there are always new opportunities for character development and motivation.

5. Wants are manifestations of Needs.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your character has a shopping problem. They want material products like clothes or cars, but this is only scratching the surface of who they are as a person. Their needs might be the approval of their peers, which they do by having the latest and most expensive products, or their needs might be a sense of ownership that manifests in purchases.

Imagine that needs are the roots underground, while wants are the leaves that everyone else (including the reader) sees upfront. Writing great characters that answer to your readers’ needs–whether that’s for adventure or because they want to achieve along with your characters–will keep people turning pages and wanting to finish the story.

3 thoughts on “How to Use Marketing 101 to Write Great Characters”

      1. Yes, it definitely helps! I really enjoy reading writing advice from different angles – I find them to be the most useful.


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