Creating Unique & Relatable Characters
Characters are quite literally the life and blood of your story. Your character’s personality and development can make or break your novel. How do you make a well-developed character? Well, the first step is to get a strong handle on what makes the character unique and relatable.
CHARACTER TRAITS TO CONSIDER
Everything else aside, this is the hardest thing about creating characters. Most of my main characters have had their names changed at least three times, and I’m still not sold. A name has to suit everything else about a character. Make sure it matches the character’s ethnicity. Even if your story is set in a fantasy world, people in the same village shouldn’t have radically different names (unless you explain why). Try to research names with meanings that describe your character. You can also create a name for a point of humor in your story. Consider, for instance, Roald Dahl’s “‘Violet, you’re turning violet!’” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Consider your character’s sex, gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, and age. How have these impacted their role in the world? How will these traits impact the way your character responds to major events in your novel? This will tie into worldbuilding. Do people in your world have prejudices? This will shape your character.
This is more than their skin, hair, and eye color, whatever young adult fiction would have you believing. Consider your character’s hair length and texture, their height and weight, and their nose and jaw shape. Do they have scars or birthmarks? What’s their posture like––how do they sit and stand?
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
Strengths are more than how good they are on a battlefield or how smart they are. What traits of your character inspire others to follow them? Why does your reader care about your character? It is important for your character to have flaws, or else your reader won’t relate to them. The easiest way to give your character a weakness is to give them a phobia, but make sure there is a reason for it!
Perseverance, generosity, and loyalty may seem like strengths, but can be made a weakness. Someone who never gives up may have trouble realizing they’re walking into a trap. Someone who always helps others may end up helping the villain. Someone who stays true to their word may not break a fatal promise. If you’re searching for a big plot twist, take your character’s best trait and turn it on them.
This is especially important for characters who will narrate the story. Voice is how the character thinks and speaks. It includes syntax, word choice, and attitude. This is the key to writing dialogue without tags. This is the key to switching POVs between chapters without making your reader wonder whose head they are in. This is how you show your reader everything else about your character. Their personality and background should come through their voice.
This will help determine everything above. Where does your character come from? What relationships do they hold dear? Do the people around them make them better or worse? What about their world and how they are seen? This will determine their biggest fears, most prominent strengths, and their voice.
You don’t have to be sure of every detail of each one of your characters before starting your first draft, but by the time you get around to revising, you should have a pretty good understanding of your characters. This will help you make sure their decisions and your plot makes sense. If you create fully fleshed character’s, they will be more realistic.
CREATING REALISTIC CHARACTERS
Characters can behave differently in different places and with different people. However, if a character seems like two radically different people in similar positions, it may be difficult to believe. If a character is going to change, make sure there is a reason they developed. Your plot can and should change the character. However, the more consistent you keep your character’s voice, traits, and behavior, the more realistic they will be.
Make sure all of the traits mentioned above work together. Like I said, the character’s experiences should help create the person they are. Their relationships and the people they surround themselves with will develop their voice.
Borrow people from the real world. It can be difficult to create a character from scratch. Try to base your characters on the people who make up your life. How much more realistic can you get than a real person? Imagine your sibling or friend in the position you place your characters in. How would they react?
A good character is unique and relatable. It can be easy to look at someone else’s character and critique their development, but it is a lot harder to create the perfect character.
What is the hardest part about creating characters? Let me know in the comments!