The way to a reader’s heart is through your characters. You want readers to fall in love with them, root for them, and miss them when the story is over. Are your characters falling flat on the page or do they just not seem believable? Try these 5 tips for crafting realistic characters to have yours teeming with life in no time!
Give you characters desires and goals
Your characters should always have something pushing them forward in the story. Whether their desires are subconscious, such as craving affection, or conscious, such as hoping to get a promotion at work, they must want something and work towards achieving that thing throughout the story. Not only will this make your character seem more realistic, but it will also help drive the plot forward.
Also, think about why your characters have these desires. Why does she crave affection? Why is she so motivated to get that big promotion? Answering these questions will help you flesh out your characters even further.
Give your characters a backstory
Speaking of motivations, giving your characters a detailed backstory will help them seem more realistic. Not every detail of the backstory has to make it into the actual story, but just having it in your mind can help you decide how your characters will act in certain situations or how they’ll justify the decisions they make.
Try filling out a questionnaire for your characters while you’re brainstorming your story. What was your protagonist’s childhood like? What flavor of ice cream is her favorite? Little details like this will shape your characters’ personalities and endear them to readers.
Give your characters quirks
When you think about lovable characters from your favorite books, they probably had a couple of quirks or character traits that made them so unique and memorable. In addition, giving your characters a few idiosyncrasies will make them seem more life-like, as opposed to being like every other stock character on the page.
If you’re running low on ideas, think about people in your family, close friends, old classmates, or coworkers. Is your uncle an obsessive coin collector? Does your best friend only wear slip-on shoes because she never learned how to tie shoelaces? Draw inspiration from real-life people and your characters will start to pop on the page!
Give your characters flaws and fears
Though you might be tempted to write a perfect character so your readers will have to love her, perfect characters are not realistic. Even if the character is the hero of the story, give her flaws and let her fail sometimes so readers can relate to her and see that she is human, and they will love her even more.
Flaws can be as simple as being a messy eater or always leaving dirty clothes on the floor, or they can be as injurious as excessive pride or greed. Play around with a combination of both! On a related note, give your characters vulnerability and fears. What are they afraid of? Whether its silly or serious, force your characters to confront their fears over the course of the story and they’ll really start to shine.
Give your characters power and agency
Throughout your story, your characters should act rather than react. In other words, things don’t happen to your character—your character makes things happen herself. This is where your character becomes a little less realistic for the sake of your story. As James N. Frey says in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, your fictional character “has hotter passions and colder anger; he travels more, fights more, loves more, changes more, has more sex. Lots more sex. [He] has more of everything.”
Your characters should make decisions that you might not ordinarily make in real life. They shouldn’t go through a normal day of work and then come home and watch Netflix until bedtime. Don’t be afraid to have your characters make big moves. Characters in fiction are just as extraordinary as they are realistic—this is what makes fiction fun to read!
Reading and writing are her passions, and she's recently been hired to work as a writing consultant at Auburn's Miller Writing Center to assist students in all stages of the writing process with all forms of writing. She hopes to pursue an MFA after graduation.
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