Life-Like: Creating Realistic Characters

Hey, guys, it’s Arella again. As we move further into April and cover more of our tips, I’d like to move on to some of mine regarding another very important aspect of your story: realistic characters. It’s always important to remember that your goal in writing is not just to create lovable characters for your readers to adore, it’s to create realistic people-like characters.
I think it’s something that we all find ourselves questioning at some point, and wondering whether or not are characters feel real enough for our readers to truly, deeply connect with them. Today, I’m going to be sharing a few of the tips and strategies I’ve learned to accomplish this.

Before I begin, though, I want to make something clear, here: creating characters is not an easy process, which means what I am giving you is not a perfect checklist to ensure that your characters are 100% realistic. Sometimes, even after following each of these, you may find yourself a little short of a realistic human being. These are more…guidelines, tools, or something of a similar nature. Now then, let’s begin, shall we?

1. Shining Personality

Okay, so this first one seems a little obvious, but it is still important nonetheless. Personality is necessary for a realistic character. If you give them traits that are unrealistic to have at the same time, or unrealistic to have depending on their background, it can seriously mess up the realism of the character as a whole. The other issue comes when you try to write a character who has a very, very different personality from yourself, and certain traits seem…over the top. My solution? Meyers-Briggs.
While there are some aspects of MBTI that are a little crazy, and there are a lot of issues with accurate typing, it’s actually a very good way to portray accurate character personalities. If you figure out which type your characters are, it makes it much easier to separate yourself and look at dialogue and actions they choose to take and decide which ones accurately fit their personalities.
There are a few issues with MBTI, considering that there are a lot of stereotypes that exist regarding each type (I’m looking at you, Tumblr), but if you dig deep enough, you can find some solid sources. Or, if you know of some friends that are a particular type that is the same as your character, you can bounce ideas off of them, or incorporate some of their persona into your book.

I’m a massive MBTI nerd, and delve deeply into the dark world of cognitive functions. This has been one of the greatest changes in accuracy of personality in my characters. I was able to look at some scenes of my novel and note how uncharacteristically a character was acting, completely opposite of what I had established their traits and personality was earlier on. These betrayals may not be that big of a deal, but they make a difference in the end. As for my MBTI nerdiness, friends, do not be surprised if at some point I post entirely on applying it to characters. It is one of the biggest tools I use in writing. 

2. Noah's Arc (Not that kind)

Yeah, not the boat, but the other kind of arc: character arcs. 
Ah, yes, charcter arcs. Deeply entwined with story structure, they are, and yet a completely different thing. A character arc, for those of you who aren’t sure what exactly I’m talking about, is the “arc” of change your character goes through during the course of a story. There are three kinds, each of which will have a different impact on your characters, your theme, and your story itself.

The first arc is the Positive Arc. The Positive Arc is exactly as it sounds; in the beginning of your story, the character starts off at a place where they are in a low, usually struggling with their “lie”, something I mentioned in my previous post. To keep it short, my basic explanation of a lie would be that it is something your character believes about themselves or the world that is false, and leads them to chase the wrong things. In a Positive Arc, by the end of the story, your character will have realized the false truth in their lie, and turned to their truth instead. One example: a character starts out believing they need to be the favorite or best to be loved, but in the end they realize the truth, which is that they are loved just for being themselves.

The second arc is the Negative Arc. The Negative Arc, also relatively self-explanatory, in which the character often starts out on a high, but then they end up in a very low place. This happens either through the following of their lie, in which they do not realize the truth or they reject it in favor of the promising appeal of the lie. Other times, the Negative Arc is a reflection of corruption, by any source. Sometimes villain’s arcs, particularly those who start off as allies or friends to the protagonists, are Negative Arcs.

The final arc is the Flat Arc. As you’ve probably figured out by now, for incredibly creative people, we were very uncreative at deciding names for these things. The Flat Arc, also self-explanatory, offers little or no change for the character. While this arc may seem boring, it is still important. Not every character has enough appearances or development in a story to have a Positive or Negative Arc, because sometimes flat characters are acceptable and even necessary when it comes to minor characters that do not have a large enough role in a story to have one of the other Arcs. Or, perhaps a character with a Flat Arc is not going through a noticeable amount of upward, or downward, growth, because they are confident and established in their identity and are helping the protagonist or others towards the ending of their own arc.
No matter which arcs you characters have, it’s important to have them either way. Character arcs are something I highly recommend researching more on, especially if you are worried about the realism of your characters. With the risk of sounding like a broken record from both this and my last post: they are something that completely changed my writing.

3. Beauty Lies Within Your Heart 

At the end of the day, I think the most realistic characters are the ones that their authors poured their hearts into. The same goes for books in general. When you pour yourself into a story, into your characters, you create an opportunity for empathy that nothing else can create. 
The best way to make a realistic character is to pour as much human into them as you can; living, breathing, loving humanistic qualities, both the good and bad.
 While everything and anything can be source material for your writing, the most important and incredible are people. Using pieces of yourself, pieces of your family, and pieces of your friends to inspire and create your characters can make a whole new level of realism. If you are struggling to make a character feel real, pick a quirk or trait that you love in a friend or family member, and put that in there. 
Or, to take to a higher level, put a part of yourself. Especially if it’s your own insecurities, fears, or worried thoughts. Writing characters that are going through something you can relate to or have been through is so much more realistic, because you know all the pain or joy that can come with those situations. Writing a character who’s insecure about the same things you are, no matter what that may be, is one of the most realistic characters you could probably ever write.

 Not to say it’s easy, because it’s not. In no shape, way, or form is anything to do with writing easy, but especially not this. Pouring so much of yourself--especially the parts you dislike or hide--is hard.
 It’s crazy hard.
 In the end, though, it's insanely worth it. It is a gift to yourself and your readers, for reasons that I couldn't even begin to describe. (Nor could I do so in the length of a reasonable size post).
 Also, I’m not saying every character should have every insecurity you’ve ever had in your entire life. That would get repetitive and boring pretty quickly. Putting some of them into one or maybe two each book though? Both doable and more than effective. Many writers would agree that it is a radical writing-changer. Pouring yourself into things makes everything look better and more beautiful.

All right, I think that’s it! (Three cheers for the end of cheesy tip names! I'm sorry. Not really, but I thought I should probably say it. Love y'all.)

Those are my top three tips on how to write more realistic characters. I know there’s a thousand other tips I could give, and there’s probably better ones out there, but these are tried and tested by yours truly, along with many other writers that I know of. These are the best ones I think I have though, and that’s coming from someone who has done a lot of work regarding characters.
Over all, I think it’s just important to remember that characters are people, and there comes a time when you’ve got to be like a parent with their eighteen-year-old child, and let them move on. If you never get out of character development and allow them to live their lives within your inky world, they will never reach their full potential.
 I think it’s better to have a (humanly) flawed eighteen-year-old making their way into the world than a thirty-year-old living in your basement with a seemingly “perfect” personality. There’s no point of having characters without a book to put them in.
 Learn to let go, my friends. They may move off and go to college, but they are not gone forever. They’ll always be there, in your heart, and occasionally on holidays when they get tired of microwave meals and want some homecooked goodness.


Anyways, parenting analogies aside, what are you waiting for? Characters won't create themselves, nor will stories. Let’s get to work.


My Cheesy Titles, Puns, and Analogies are Hereby Copyrighted and Trademarked. They're Bad, but My Name's on Them, Guys and Gals. Sorry, Not Sorry.
Love, Your Sister in Writing and Christ,
~Arella Noreen

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I have trouble with this aspect of writing, and this shoudl help.
    I still realyl hate the MBTI tests. I've done then WAAAY too many times for characters.