It’s likely that most of us can name at least one book character that we have developed an emotional connection with. Some characters have the ability to make us sob. Other characters pull on the heart strings. The main question is: how do authors make these individuals so realistic? After careful contemplation, I have identified 6 key aspects of bringing your book character to life. My thoughts are compiled as a list below. Please do feel free to comment if you’d like to expand on my ideas.
- Characters should be unique, simply because people are unique. Nobody wants to read about a bland character, who is not distinguished from other individuals in the book. Character profiling can be handy, and a quick google search will give you templates that you can use to do this. I find it useful to develop notes on a character’s fashion sense, appearance, quirks, habits, mannerisms, personality and language. Is there a certain phrase your character is fond of saying? Does he/she have an accent? Do they speak slowly and carefully, or are they loud and obnoxious? Are they eloquently spoken, or do they use the minimal amount of words necessary to communicate? Your surroundings present opportunities to examine real people to find out what makes them different and unique.
Example: For anyone who has read Game of Thrones, you will be familiar with the character of Tyrion. I think he is especially well developed, even down to the way he moves – the author describes him ‘waddling.’ His specific way of walking only enhances his uniqueness.
- There should be a degree of consistency to your character. If he/she is self-destructive and tends to sabotage a relationship, it’s likely they will lapse and fall back into the same patterns, even if they are trying to change. The development of a character shouldn’t be an easy task – it should be gradual with setbacks along the way. As human beings, we don’t change our personality over night. If you have a serial killing vampire in your book who falls in love and tries to change his personality, it’s likely there will still be collateral damage.
- Nobody enjoys reading about the all perfect character. It’s important to add shades of grey, drawing out both the negative and also the redeeming qualities of your character.
Website: Check out www.novel-writing-help.com/creating-fictional-characters.html. This website explains that ‘ordinary characters are realistic’ and ‘extraordinary characters are romantic’ (Chapman, 2008). So it’s important to have a balance between realistic traits ie. flaws, and those that make the character inspirational to the reader.
- I think it’s also important to allow the reader to relate to the character to a certain degree. For example, if your protagonist is enduring a particularly bad breakup, most readers can empathise based on their own experience. It is expected that a realistic character will go through a series of emotions: hurt, anger, and the desire to cling to their ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend despite all reason. If a character attempts to get back with an ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend, only to be cruelly rejected, the reader can sometimes be encouraged to feel a sense of anger on the character’s behalf, as long as the fiction is compelling enough.
- Although it’s important for a reader to understand a character, this does not mean that you shouldn’t add a degree of mystery. Characters may have unpredictable reactions. Just as people are deep and profound with multiple motivations and thoughts, so are our fictional creations. As long as there is a reason or justification for the way a character acts (if it’s not nature, then perhaps it’s nurture), it’s good to have multiple layers or facets to their personality.
- Having secrets, ambitions and desires makes us human, alongside our strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to develop these aspects in characters, too. Emotional triggers are also good to play with. Not everyone displays rage in the same way. Does your character fall silent when angry, and keep the emotion at bay? Do they cry when the emotion overwhelms them? Or do they lash out and hurt those around? Thinking about how your character deals with emotions, and reacts in certain situations, makes them appear more human.
I hope you find this discussion useful. The next blog post (due for release next Friday) will discuss effective description. As a reader, do you like long, lengthy descriptions, or do you tend to skip sections like these? I’d be interested to know your answers. Thank you for reading.