It’s common for beginner writers to create characters that are too perfect, too nice, and unproblematic; when in reality character creation should be quite the opposite. In this post you will discover four ways to develop your characters to become realistic by focusing on voice, flaws, situational characterization and character surprises.
Figure Out The Voice
Knowing the voice of the character is essential because it shows your readers who the character really is. For example, Junot Díaz is known for writing stories about the Latin community, specifically Dominican characters, and he brings forth this cultural aspect through dialogue. In his famous book This Is How You Lose Her, Díaz gives us a series of short stories that tie around the life of Yunior, a problematic Dominican who is hopelessly looking for love while destroying it at the same time. This is the beginning paragraph to This Is How You Lose Her:
Yunior’s voice shines on the page because it’s true to his character as a cheating Dominican that comes from poverty. He’s able to portray all of these qualities in his narrative through his necessary use of foul words and low-life metaphors.
When it comes to your own characters, you want to consider everything in their lives that can add to their voice. Consider where they grew up, who they hung out with and their childhood. Factors as easy as place can determine how your character would speak like if they’re from the Bronx or if they’re biracial and they speak in Spanglish.
Voice shines through the page through several determinants ranging from place to friends to family to childhood to one’s self.
It’s easier to portray the voice of a story if it’s told through first person. With first person, the author can tell the story through the eyes of the main character, giving the story a unique voice since it’s told through the voice of an actual person.
When it comes to third person storytelling, consider the tone of the piece and how you want it to come across to readers. A lot of third person storytelling can be very straight-forward like this:
“He waited at the train station, hoping to see the girl of his dreams. Even though he hadn’t seen her since she left for college, he still believed that the spark would still be there.”
While there’s nothing wrong with this type of storytelling, consider amping up your sentences to make a more fun voice, if you will. Below I’ve included a sample of the beginning paragraph to George Saunder’s Victory Lap:
While Saunder’s voice style can be off putting at first, it quickly encapsulates its readers because of how unique and foreign it is. Saunder’s has an unspeakable talent for telling stories in a intriguing way by playing with narrative styles.
What’s important to take away from this section is that anyone can write a story, it’s how you tell it that will set you apart from other writers.
Give your characters flaws
Imagine you’re reading a story and every character seems to be perfect and nice and they somehow always manage to avoid conflict. I don’t think many of us would keep reading past page 10 no matter how strong the voice might be.
Readers are engaged in stories when they see the characters as complex people with multiple layers. I’m not saying that your characters can’t be nice BUT you need to add more to their characterization whether that’s by making them a compulsive liar, a cheater, depressed, etc.
Try thinking about the people in your life that you love with all your heart: what are some things that they do that irritate the crap out of you? Do you have a coworker who talks too much, a friend who always complains, an alcoholic boyfriend? It’s not only fun to incorporate flaws into your characters whether they’re big or small but also it makes the character more relatable and personable.
Flaws are what make your character stand out on the page because it is what sets them apart from the other characters in the story. Don’t be afraid to write them in, they will make your character pop out on the page.
You can visit this link to see over a hundred examples of character flaws.
Put Them In Shitty Situations
Creating characters isn’t just about making them realistic, it’s about making your reader care about what happens to them. The easiest way to do this is by putting your characters in situations or conflicts that will make the reader root for your characters to get out of their shitty situation.
Some simple ways to do this are by thinking about your own life or those around you since it’ll be easier to write about from personal knowledge. Maybe your character just went through a break up, family death, psychotic break, etc. When you place your character in these conflicts, the reader will feel more empathetic toward your character.
You especially want to do this if your main character is an asshole. No one wants to read a story about an asshole who is completely unlikeable and not relatable. However, you can still have reader care about an asshole IF you put them in scenarios that make their rude personality make more sense. It’s easier to care about an unlikeable person if you find out one day that they were abused their entire childhood. It won’t completely make your reader love the character, but it will definitely humanize them a bit.
It’s crucial to have your readers care for your characters because it will help them become attached to your works. You don’t just want a reader to get through your work; you want them to become engrossed in your novel, screaming at the main character to get their life together. A story should be an emotional experience and your characters are your main tools to help provide that rollercoaster for your readers.
Have Them Do Something Out Of Character
Isn’t it always an amazing feeling when you’re reading a story and the shy, quiet girl finally punches the boy who’s been teasing her? When you have your characters do something even they thought they could never do, it amps up their characterization by 100%.
Up until the moment when your character does something surprising, your reader thinks they understand your character completely. So, when you get to surprise your reader it heightens the story and changes the outlook on the character.
Now, your reader will become even more engrossed in your character because they aren’t sure what they’re capable of at this point. Will they keep surprising the reader? Is the character a different person after making a decision that’s completely opposite of who they are as a person? What has the character learned after doing something they didn’t know they were powerful enough to do?
Creating characters can be a complex task; however, once you get down the layers, the background, and how you want them to come off on the page, it can be a rewarding and fun experience to see your characters come to life.
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