Updated: Dec 15, 2020
How do you write realistic characters? With so many different kinds of characters out there–like a mother who is also a robot, or a gangster who is also a tree–it can be challenging to build believable and unique characters. We’ve all read novels where we wonder how the author could possibly have imagined a character like that, and often those strange creations turn us off from reading further. But what if I told you we could avoid this challenge by learning to understand one character concept: the protagonist.
Everyone wants to write a novel that will be read and loved by millions. I am one of those people. My problem isn’t finding ideas or struggling with grammar or spelling though. My biggest struggle is getting my characters to not only speak differently but act differently as well. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked hard at making my main character, Tia Ester, into someone other than myself over the past year. But even Tia lacks depth in some ways. The three main characters have distinct personalities - and I even went so far as to tell the reader what colors they like to wear (which no one believes but me). But how does one become unique?
It’s about separating your characters from yourself, and start seeing them as someone else. We all see our friends and loved ones in different ways than they see themselves. Using that to your advantage, you can start to create a personality. Try this exercise with me. Start with a name, an age group, and an occupation of someone you know. Now, think about that person you know and imagine what you think they should be named. Your best friend might be called Marie, but perhaps she looks more like an Eliza. Now, if you had to give them any job in the world that suited their personality, what would it be? Are they an accountant, but in your mind you see them as a veterinarian? We’re starting to build a character that’s a bit more realistic. Now, we just have to make them interesting.
We have a character named Eliza, we’re going to say she’s twenty-five years of age, and works as a veterinarian. There are plenty of young ladies in their twenties working as a vet. That’s not interesting, that’s just realistic. It’s time to think about the what if’s. In our mind, we decided that this person we know should be named something different, and have an occupation we believe suits them. What would someone else say? What if they’re a vet in your story, but they don’t want to be a vet? What if they rather be something else? Or, perhaps they love their job, but something gets in their way. A criminal, running from the law may decide to go into a veterinary clinic to get themselves stitched up, but in this scenario, the vet is never in the best position and usually gets killed at the end of the exchange of services. Perhaps your character, your vet, is a bit smarter than that. Instead of using anaesthetic on the criminal, what if they injected them with something a little deadlier, and your character now as a taste for the worst things in life?
The possibilities are endless, but sometimes the best practice to a realistic character, is building off someone you already know. Imagining someone in the place of your character can help build a relationship between you as the author, your reader, and the character they can connect to.
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