Lessons from a writer: Writing realistic characters
Character creation. It seems easy until you finish writing and then an editor, publisher, or beta reader tells you your character is flat. How do you change something like that? They’re not to you. Well, I’ve written an article about that here, but today, we have a panel, too. Learn a bit about how other writers make realistic characters, and share your response in the comments if you want to share!
What main qualities do you feel a character needs to have to seem realistic?
The character needs to make sense within his/her story world. The speech patterns, the clothes, the mannerisms—they all need to fit with whatever parameters the writer has set. Readers will be willing to accept any elements in a book if the characters are believable and likeable. What does that mean? I’m not a fan of the fantasy genre, but when I was in high school, someone introduced me to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. In the world of the Wheel of Time, the fundamental power that drives the universe is called the One Power. Some people are born with the talent to control, or channel, it. At the start of the first book, The Eye of the World, though, many people in the Wheel of Time world fear those who can channel. When a protagonist, a girl, discovers she can channel, she immediately shares the news with the boy she loves. The girl’s excitement is palpable. Her eyes are shining, and she runs to the love of her life. She’s accomplished something, and she knows it’s the start of a magnificent adventure. She’s lived her entire life in a small village, but the discovery of this talent guarantees her life will never be the same. Jordan builds a world that is completely unlike ours, but in moments like these he makes his characters relatable. Real. We can identify with them and understand them, and we root them on because we feel like we know them. Like they could be our friends or neighbors. No matter what genre you’re writing in, make the characters most like your readers and you’ll always succeed in making them realistic. –Ekta Garg
If you don’t have a character that your fans can either identify with, empathize with, or care enough about to learn more about them, then your readers won’t want to read your book. Now, your other characters can be jerks, weirdos, or whatever . . . but you have to have that one character that your readers want to follow. And the most important characteristic that one character has to have is transformation. No, I’m not talking about shapeshifters here or robots in disguise. I’m talking about his ability to become more then he was when he started the journey you are taking them on. From zero to hero . . . from ordinary to extraordinary . . . from selfish jerk to selfless leader. You know what I mean! You read books, don’t you? –Steve Guglich
A character needs a history, a life lived. The writer can occasionally bring up a character’s history, giving the reader a sense that the character could be a real person with real memories and experiences. They also need personality. Whether they are overly timid, sarcastic, have a short fuse, they need a set personality, and maybe one that changes over time. They also need a goal. Whether they are ambitious and go right for it, or kind of avoid it for a while, there should be something they eventually need to reach. –Eric Smolinski
For me, the character has to have some self doubt or the character I want to relate to most of us. Once you have that self doubt then there is the hurdle that we all face and how the character manages to complete that hurdle. I suppose the next quality has to verify humor no matter how dry they are. – Martin Sigournay
To be realistic, a character needs to be flawed. Kind of a clichéd answer, but they need to struggle with the things we all struggle with, adjusted for the genre (the IRS as the Space IRS, etc.) and not everything can go according to plan. Also, they should believe what they’re doing is right. Nobody is completely selfless or completely malicious. People do things because they think they’re doing good. That’s why “good intentions” aren’t a valid excuse for anything. Everyone has good intentions. Characters who do good or evil for the sake of good or evil are flat. –Felix Awadalla
No matter what qualities you bestow on your character, they must be believable. They should be appealing physically or at least physically interesting. They should have a problem or situation that needs resolution and is described early on and raises the readers’ curiosity. –Cecelia Marriott Chittenden
A motivation to do things in the story and a distinctive personality. –Moonlake Ku
A character should be relatable. Even if it’s only a little bit. Let the housewife struggle with boring routine. Let the husband have anger issues. Give someone a touch of OCD that comes out most when they’re upset. Give characters social anxiety. Let them sniff books and lick ice cream cones slowly in circles. Give them little quirks that real people have. If something about your character is relateable, people will connect with them and that is what makes them feel realistic. –Crystal M M Burton
Want to know more about this week’s panel?
Cecelia Marriott Chittenden
I have been writing for many years but within the last two, made an attempt to publish any of my work. I self-published my first novel, Book One of a trilogy titled Pelicans Haven, in June of this year. I am currently working on Book Two and Three and a historical nonfiction novel.
I am a stay-at-home mother and wife who spends my free time baking, crafting, and fangirling. I work from home as an author and freelance editor, and I insist my positive outlook has gotten me to where I am today.
Ekta maintains her professional writing blog, The Write Edge, as well as its three extension blogs: The Write Edge Bookshelf (for book reviews); The Write Edge Writing Workshop (her self-designed, self-conducted writing workshop); and Growth Chart (where she chronicles the aches and pains, joys, and grins of parenting.) In 2015, she launched Prairie Sky Publishing, the publishing extension of The Write Edge, so she could pursue her writing dreams as an indie author, and now she divides her time between writing and editing the work of other writers.
I am currently working on my first novel, a fantasy adventure called Accrue’s End: Pursuit. I also have a short story titled Sight Unseen that will be published in Collective Ramblings Vol 2. I’m still learning a lot about the writing process but am getting a lot of help from amazing people on Facebook.
Felix lives and breathes New Jersey and also does improv comedy in New York City. More importantly, he writes goofy science fiction paranormal adventure pulp and cites Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame as a huge inspiration. He has published a novel, Reign of the Walrus Witch, and a short story, Full Steam Ahead: A Steampunk Steamventure.
Martin Sigournay has been writing for about twenty-three years but only started publishing e-books back in 2014. He mainly writes fiction but has published one litany of poetry. His current published story is Wolfsbane The Mark, which has elements of fact and fiction intertwined within the story.
I am Moonlake Ku, a Chinese, beginning writer planning to make a slow switch to becoming a FT writer specializing in the niche of Chinese fantasy.
I am a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m working on my first fantasy series called, The Veil Saga. My goal is to have it ready for print by the Fall of 2017. To find out more about me and The Veil Saga, you can check out my website.