One of the things I’m often asked to speak about is how to create realistic characters. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to making imaginary characters real.
1. Your character must need or want something very badly, and he must keep on wanting that (or something related) throughout the novel where he may or may not obtain it.
2. Motivation—make sure you know what it is and why they do what they do.
3. You must feel deeply about your characters for others to do so. Main characters must be in some way likeable. All characters should evoke emotion from readers.
4. Make your character larger than life—and yet believable!
5. Yet don’t give your character all qualities you admire. They can’t be a rainforest activist, a nuclear physicist, a social worker, a popular speaker, and a champion of children, animals, and old people. Get the idea? Choose one or two solid talents and stick to these throughout the novel.
6. Character must have weaknesses and make mistakes. In most novels the characters will grow and change over the course of the story. This is not necessarily the case with adventure novels where the action is the story.
7. Do not include character’s background unless it is vital to the plot. You may need to know it all, but your reader doesn’t.
8. Choose your names carefully for meaning, sound. Be careful not to have names that sound alike or begin with similar sounds.
9. Main characters should be active, not passive. Remember that at some point he/she will take charge of the story/action.
10. Use dialog to reveal characters’ traits and views, as well as inner thoughts and actions. Make sure dialog is appropriate to age, gender, and cultural background.
11. Don’t step out of character! You cannot betray who the character is to suit the plot.
12. Use powerful verbs instead of descriptive words.
13. How is the character perceived by others? Not everyone should love your character.
14. Character does not have to receive the cake AND the icing in the end. Does your character have too much?
Make imaginary characters real character sketch
Getting to know the people you’re writing about will help you make imaginary characters real. And many times filling out a character sketch will help you get to know them in a hurry, or at least make them clear in your mind so you can communicate their characteristics to your readers.
Name and nickname/Reason for name:
Physical attributes/Ethnicity/Hair, eyes, mouth, etc./How he moves. Does he have an unusual attribute? Birthmark? Scars? How’d he get them? Frequently used facial expression or other physical gesture:
Personality/Sense of humor/ Fast or slow speech / Frequently used verbal expression / Impulsive/smart/competitive/easily hurt/guarded/ Strengths/weaknesses/flaws:
Birthplace and home/Circumstances of birth/Class (wealthy/poor, merchant/laborer)/What was his childhood like? Describe where he calls home now:
Relationship to people/Family/Friends/How does he feel about them? People he wants close/Does he have enemies?
Religious affiliations or lack thereof:
Worst past experience:
Best past experience:
What your character wants most (main goal or dream—can evolve over course of novel):
What your character needs to learn most:
Emotions Laughter/ Happiness/Tears/Scared/In love/Anger/Hatred/Sadness/Regret/Need/What cause the emotion? Were does he go when he feels this way:
How your character handles pain:
Lying/Has your character lied or been lied to? How does he feel about that?
Biggest fear/Would he tell someone this fear?
Secrets/Does anyone know?
Thing he hates most about himself and others:
Thing he admires most in himself and others:
Habits (good and bad):
Jewelry or ornamentation:
Most treasured possession:
Additional information you want to note about your character:
When you break it down, it’s really not too hard to make imaginary characters real. Happy Creating!
Copyright 2013 Teyla Rachel Branton
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