By John Tuttle
Source: Writing Cooperative
Many writers find characters to be the hardest aspect of a story to create. After all, they are the actors. They are the ones carrying out the main points of the plot. Their job is to make a story run like clockwork. So if you do not have authentic characters, the entire story is lacking. It no longer feels real either. If your audience can not relate or at least believe in what the characters are doing, then you have failed in good storytelling.
It is the writer’s task to be descriptive, to deliver emotion, and to allow the audience to fall utterly into another world. And this world is your unique story. The characters need to feel human, express human emotions, have human concerns.
We see this in fictional characters that aren’t even human such as animals or robots. The audience wants to see someone relatable to themselves. The audience is not everything, but it is certainly a big factor to consider if you want to be a successful writer.
A good character will feel genuinely human or approachable in some way. On the other hand, you also don’t want characters to seem too scripted either. Their actions should not be entirely predictable or their speech flawless and grammatically accurate. Here are a few pointers which may help writers craft more realistic characters.
When it comes to developing a character, keep in mind the reader or consumer wants to understand the character, how they think and how they feel. Therefore, one of the primary facets of any good character with depth is personality. A character who contradicts his or her own moral beliefs repeatedly is a hard one to comprehend. It is hard to get inside of such a character.
Sure, a character’s personality might grow and develop. But to change back and forth to different mindsets can be confusing — both for the writer and the reader. Some of the best inspiration for personality to infuse into a fictional character can be found close at hand. Try to take elements of strong personality types you see around you, like those of family members, friends, or even yourself.
Those odd repeated hand gestures, those nervous habits, the way someone walks: all these are types of mannerisms. Wherever you go, be observant of your fellow human beings. Don’t be creepy. Just try to examine their little mannerisms. A few examples might be how someone lights a cigarette, how someone sits in a chair, or how someone fixes her or his hair. Incorporate these little mannerisms into your characters to give them a more natural appearance.
In many short stories and even novels, the writers seem to spend little thought or energy on the physical attributes or features of their characters. To be fair, in many short stories, there is not enough time to delve into such descriptions. A person is not a landscape, but it is still a good idea to give the reader some notion of a character’s physical appearance. Hairstyle, complexion, and eye color are simple yet nice additions to a character’s description.
Similar to the physical description, illustrating what type of clothes the individual is wearing can help set the tone of the character’s mood or the situation he or she is being put in. Certain articles of clothing insinuate different activities; a suit insinuates attendance at a proper or sophisticated engagement.
Also, different personalities tend to have specific styles, different tastes in fashion. Not to be stereotypical, but I have a good friend who wears bowties and likes classical music/literature. He carries himself in a rather proper manner. Style is an important aspect of any character in a story just as it is of any person living in the real world.
You know when you watch your typical movie or TV show nowadays and all the characters’ lines are absolutely perfect? There’s seldom even an “um.” If you examine Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm from the original Jurassic Park film, you will notice that he speaks his mind rather frankly. But at the same time, his dialogue is very natural.
He goes on mini-rants and leaves pauses at times as if he’s searching for the specific words he wants to use. It’s really a realistic depiction. This is a good example of a natural-feeling character. Ian’s human which means he sometimes doesn’t have a filter. He is also a bit full of himself. But it is all part of his character.
The dialogue of a character, in many cases, can be made to sound more natural. Pauses and randomly inserted disfluencies, in moderation, is a great practice. Also, deliberate misspellings of certain words to give a character a strong accent can be effective as well.
You need not apply all of these when developing a character. The depth of a fictional character is best determined by the significance or type of role he or she has in the overall plot. If a character is a key one, then it might be a good idea to give the character more depth, more description. Ultimately, the character is in the hands of the writer.