I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject lately, and it is something that interests me quite a bit. I’ve found that when I read a book critically, many of the books do not have realistic characters. What makes a character realistic?
To me, a realistic character is one who has her own world view and opinions on everything. It is easy to fill a book with characters that are similar. Realistic characters may not be the most necessary for plot development in a book, but I think realistic characters separate good books from great books.
How can you tell if a book has realistic characters? If dialogue can be exchanged between characters easily, or if you have a hard time telling which character is speaking at any given moment, or if all the characters from one author feel or sound the same, then the book you are reading probably doesn’t have strong characters.
There are actually very few books that successfully pull off a cast of realistic characters, which makes sense, because usually one author creates all the characters. Creating individual characters is rather difficult, and many authors simply don’t go through the effort to create characters that are unique.
What are some things you can do to make characters act as individuals? Adding some of the following elements to a character will make them appear more realistic and unique no matter what genre you are writing about:
Do you and your friends use all the same words for everything? Nope. Neither should your characters. I think the best example of this I have ever read is the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR. Martin. He gives each character their own vernacular based on their personal history and hometown.
A Specific Back Story
I think for characters to feel real, they need a rich history. I like to imagine what each character would do in a certain situation and give them opinions on events and relationships. For example, in a circle of four or five friends, which friends are angry at each other? Which friends would actually be there for the others in a crisis? Thinking about these these can make character seem more real. After all, each person in real life is the star of their own story. Each character in yours should have the potential to become the main character at any point. Character interviews are one way to develop a back story for each character.
Many authors spend a lot of time thinking about what their characters look like, but you can go far beyond that to create realistic characters. A description is more than simply how a person looks. You can think about how they move, how they would react to various situations (like someone sneaking up behind them, for example), and even how they view themselves. In a way, this ties into the back story element of the character as well.
These are just a few methods that I try to use to make my story characters more realistic. What realism methods do you use in your stories?