Hi, friends! Today I’m talking about a character in my story Silent Voice, a little girl named Elizabeth “Glitter” White. She’s possibly the most beloved character in the story. I’ve done enough reading about writing to have a pretty good idea why.
When I started writing Silent Voice, I worried that Glitter could end up as yet another annoying kid character who readers hated. So I did some research on what made characters lovable, and followed the advice. To my surprise, Glitter became one of the most popular characters in Silent Voice.
At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I wanted to write this no-spoilers analysis to help other young writers who aim to design a character who is more charming than annoying. Here are some reasons why readers like Glitter.
Glitter works towards a goal.
Any effective character, good or bad, needs a motivation. Readers should know what the character wants (unless you want to create a mystery), and should see them trying to get it.
Glitter’s motivation is clear from the start. She’s the only child of a mean single dad. She longs for a loving family, and since her dad won’t change, she reaches out to other people—even strangers—for human connection. She’s desperate for someone to pay attention to her and treat her well.
Glitter puts forth great effort to achieve this goal. She draws pictures of people she just met under the heading “my friends.” She chases Claire and her dad out into the parking lot to beg them to come see her again. Her early interactions in the story basically involve her trying to find someone, anyone, who won’t reject her.
We see Glitter trying to get what she wants, and this gives us an opportunity to cheer her on.
Glitter deserves better than her lot in life.
Most people would describe Glitter as a sweet girl. She compliments people, she makes jokes, and she’s devoted to her friends. She draws cute art projects. Fundamentally, she’s a good kid.
And Glitter’s father openly loathes her. He publicly complains about her and her autistic traits to anyone who will listen. She’ll ask him for help, and he rolls his eyes. He speaks of her with disgust. Any time she reaches out to him, she’s met with rejection.
What did she do to deserve this? Nothing, really. We do get a sense of some of her imperfections: messiness, impulsivity, mood swings, hyperactivity. But she’s a 9-year-old. Kids are like that. None of this is horrible or intentional, and this is the type of thing Mr. White signed up for when he became a parent. Glitter doesn’t deserve his hatred.
Contrast with the fan-unfavorite Wesley Crusher from Star Trek. Wesley, the son of the ship’s doctor, somehow gets all the adults to like him. Early on, he breaks the rule of “no children on the bridge” and is… tolerated. In fact, soon he gets to drive the ship. A powerful alien informs his mother and the captain of the ship that he is a prodigy. The senior officers mentor and support him throughout the series.
Does Wesley deserve this special treatment? Well… He gets away with breaking rules and putting people in danger, and he even gives a mean nickname to an insecure crew member who struggles with severe anxiety. Viewers have described Wesley as smarmy, arrogant, and insufferable. His privileges come from his mom’s position, his innate intelligence, and… luck, I guess?
Many viewers dislike Wesley, because he gets things handed to him without earning or deserving them. Glitter, on the other hand, works so hard to please people while being repeatedly rejected.
As you consider your character, ask yourself:
- How well do they treat other people?
- How hard do they work?
- What do they actually get?
A kind, hardworking character who gets less than they deserve is going to get empathy from readers. A mean, lazy character who gets undeserved accolades is not going to be liked.
Consider your character’s situation, and whether it fits the reaction you want from readers.
Glitter isn’t perfect.
Readers get annoyed by perfection. It’s not relatable, and it can feel like the author is playing favorites. When trying to make a character likable, you want to ensure that you aren’t going overboard by trying to write a kind of perfection.
Glitter isn’t perfect at all, and that’s part of her charm.
In fact, Glitter is a pretty ordinary 9-year-old. She loves art projects, toys, and attention. She’s enthusiastic, impulsive, silly, and clingy to the extent that it’s a little worrisome. (Someone talk to this girl about stranger danger.) Glitter gives herself a nickname as she tries to figure out and assert her identity. She could easily be your neighbor, or the girl who unceremoniously declares “you have a spill on your pants” at the grocery store.
Neither her skills nor her personality are held up as far superior to other characters. She’s normal. Her behavior may elicit a smile or raised eyebrows depending on the situation.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all characters have to be ordinary in every way. For example, it’s clear that the story’s protagonist, Claire, is talented. Her writing moves her pop to tears, and other adults are impressed too. Claire’s writing ability is shown to be remarkable, while still reasonable considering her age, and the story treats her accordingly. Thanks to her well-rounded character and reasonable humility, readers tend to like her.
A charming character can be quite talented without ruining likability. As long as those positive traits are still realistic and balanced with other traits, you can pull it off.
I also recommend showing moments of vulnerability. Glitter has an abundance of this. She wonders why her dad doesn’t love her. She wonders if she’s doing something wrong. Maybe, she thinks, it’s her fault, and she is unlovable.
To which many of my readers react “No, you’re wrong! I love you to the moon and back! If you were a real person, I would cuddle you and compliment all your drawings and love you like a little sister!”
These are the words that Glitter longs to hear. But she doesn’t hear them. (Does this change in the end? You’ll have to read it to find out.) Something is missing from her life, and seeing her struggle only endears her to readers.
Every compelling character has vulnerabilities. When we see Glitter struggle with her feelings about her uncaring dad, we love her more.
Glitter adds something positive to the story.
No one likes a character who’s just a black hole of sadness.
Negative characters can be a drain on the story. If Glitter were a perpetually-crying, whiny clingy child who only served to ask help with her woes, then readers wouldn’t like her as much.
But Glitter is a multi-dimensional character who experiences a range of emotions. At times, she’s sad or distressed and in need of support. Other times, she’s cheerful, eager to make the people around smile and laugh. Glitter is a lot of fun when she’s happy. She can be a source of joy in a difficult world.
I know, this might feel like mood whiplash after the last section. My point is that Glitter needs both vulnerable moments and happy moments in order to be truly compelling. In my opinion, the best characters have both.
In addition to making people smile, Glitter is useful. Yes, she’s a child, so her capabilities are limited. But she makes a real impact on Claire and her family.
In many ways, Glitter mirrors Claire’s pre-adoption self, innocent and rejected by both family and society. Claire gets to comfort, teach, and play with Glitter—and it is almost like she is doing these things to her inner child. She gives Glitter the guidance and unconditional love that Claire never received as a little girl. Being with Glitter helps Claire let go of self-blame and heal from her past trauma. Furthermore, Glitter is a source of joy to Claire’s adoptive dads, who never got to spend time with a happy little girl and very much enjoy it when they get the opportunity.
As a character, Glitter is extremely useful. She moves forward Claire’s character arc. She provides positive experiences to Claire’s family.
Glitter provides a positive influence on the story. It wouldn’t be the same without her. If we erased her from the plot, it would be a real loss.
Can you say the same for your hopefully-beloved character? If you got rid of them, would the other characters have sadder and less interesting lives? If that’s not true, then it sounds like you have some changes to make.
Being story smart
Obviously, not everything that applies to Glitter will apply to every character in the world. For one thing, if you want to write a villain everyone can hate, then just reverse a lot of the things I wrote here. And all characters play different roles in their stories.
This case study is meant to share ideas about what makes Glitter likable, so that you can apply some of the same traits if you want to do something similar in your own story.
Let’s review the guide. Readers like Glitter because:
- She strives towards a goal.
- She treats other people well.
- She deserves more than the life she has.
- The narrative doesn’t treat her like she’s perfect.
- She’s vulnerable.
- She makes people smile and laugh
- She adds something meaningful to the plot.
To make your character liked more, try adding some of these things. To make them liked less, take some of these things away.
What are some of your favorite characters? Why do you like them so much? Feel free to share in the comments.