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5 Tips for Realistic Characters

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Tue Jan 01, 2008 4:13 am
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Teague says...

5 Tips for More Realistic Characters*

*Results may vary

A lot of people have complimented me on my highly realistic characters recently, so I figured it was high time I shared how I develop my characters. So I’ve put together my five favourite tips & tricks for more realistic characters.

Since characters are the lifeblood of every story (and the plot is the heart that pumps them!) realistic, believable characters are a must-have. Your reader wants to be able to relate to the story and the characters, and they won’t relate to flat, non-believable characters.

The example will be Eric MacAllister from my story, Ten Years, Twenty-Eight Days.

1. Be Your Character

In your day-to-day life, at any point, stop and ask yourself, “What would my character do in this situation? What circumstances would precede and follow this action?” These situations can range from the most menial actions (I do this a lot while brushing my teeth) to a situation that might completely change the course of the day. Put your character in your life and see how they respond. There will be occasions when your character’s life and your life clash! These are situations you have to adapt to, and your character will come out a better character for it. When this happens, try to think of a similar situation and put your character in that. Or if the situation so calls for it, you can always take a trip back in time - maybe you’re in school, but your character isn’t during the time of the story. Well, it’s a little thing called exposition! Put your character in a school setting and see what happens.

For example, Eric has five siblings. I have only one. And other than his siblings, Eric has a small family. Mine, however, is huge. So how do I figure out how Eric responds in family situations? I think like he does when I’m with small sections of my family. When I’m with my full-blown family, however, I don't, because his extended family isn't big.

2. Visualize

If you’re an artist, draw pictures of your character. If you’re like me and you fail at drawing, search for sketches that resemble your character (or ask someone to draw your character for you) and YOU do the colouring. Why? It gets you in touch with your character. It gives you a slightly more developed mental picture, and when you’re colouring/drawing them, you get in touch with them. You start looking at what clothes they wear, how they have their hair, etc. All this clues you in to who your character is - not to mention giving you quality time with your character, since they have to pose for you.

Me, I like to make posters! I’ll colour a sketch I find that resembles my characters and then put a quote on it, with the character’s name and the story they come from. Sometimes I’ll watermark it using MS Word and put song lyrics over it or something, but that’s only if I’m feeling funky.

You guys should see my bedroom walls…

3. Let Them Into Your Life

A well-developed character might refuse to leave you alone. They’ll talk to you and intrude upon your thoughts when you really need to focus (Eric likes to interrupt maths tests). The key here is to let them. Every time you let their voice shine through, they’re that much closer to becoming a genuine person. Let them bound in whenever they like and have their way with your brain for a while. After all, they have to live there all the time. They don’t have distractions like you and me, what with games and books and school. Let them intrude upon your life -- it’ll give them experiences otherwise unavailable to them. And as we all know, experience makes people who they are.

With Eric, he likes to interrupt my schooling, since he didn’t finish secondary school and was never that applied to his schoolwork. He wants to know what it’s like! And no matter what test I’m taking, I let him intrude upon my thoughts a little bit. It helps me get to know him, and helps him get to know me. Everyone wins (except my maths grade, but that’s for other reasons).

4. Talk With Your Characters

Talking with a character is much like letting them take over your life - it gives the both of you an opportunity to get to know each other. And when that happens, your character becomes easier to work with and (hey!) even more realistic. It’s pretty simple: sit down and have a mental (or verbal, or written) chat with them. It’s another one of those win-win situations. And hey, get into an argument or two with them. It shows you what their flaws are. And characters without flaws are flat.

Through my conversations with Eric, I’ve discovered that he really, really likes marshmallows. And also that he’s a bit naïve. And that his Scottish accent is awesome. Ahem. Moving on, before I become even more like my mother…

5. Your Characters Are People Too

Bluntly phrased, your characters are not puppets! Let them grow and flourish like the human beings they are. Don’t try to control them, otherwise they will become angst-y teenagers and rebel against you and cause a whole lotta heck. And you want your characters to work with you, not against you. So give them freedom, let them alone, and let THEM take the wheel when you’re writing. It’s their story. Let them live it.

Well, TYTED is Eric’s retelling of his life as an alcoholic. He knows what happened, I don’t. I’m just the medium between him and everyone who reads his story. If you think of it that way, your characters and possibly even your story will be so much better.

Disclaimer: This is just what works for me. Feel free to interpret as you wish, and keep in mind not everything that works for me will work for you.

With love,
Saint Razorblade.
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Tue Jan 01, 2008 4:23 am
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Emerson says...

Haha, I only skimmed the article (I am tired? Please forgive me ^_^) but I agree with you entirely...

My characters are real, living, breathing people. They can have a conversation with someone if they felt like it. They can walk around a house and do stuff. It's almost horrifying. I was actually thinking about this a bit ago. As a writer, do you need to be slightly insane to be good? Anyone else but a writer would be put in a ward for believing someone who didn't exist was alive and was talking through them and constantly pestering them. Hearing voices, imaginary friends, haha, only a writer could get away with it.

Lovely advice, I would tell everyone to take it. It is the truth. You have to make them real.
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Tue Jan 01, 2008 4:52 am
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Bella says...

I found this...very helpful. That period of ellipses was the time in which I saved it in my favorites, so I could go back and check it out later. Bravo Saint!

(Melania thinks you're insane, but she thinks that about most people. What she refuses to admit, on the otehr hand, is how insane SHE is).
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Tue Jan 01, 2008 5:09 am
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Loose says...

**huggles Razie**

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who verbally talks to my characters!

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Tue Jan 01, 2008 5:01 pm
zankoku_na_tenshi says...


I totally agree with you, and I've always tried to do this myself. (though I'm not so skilled as you at it). XD I've grown really attached to my characters in the space of writing LoSLoR, and anything that helps me develop them more is super-helpful. Thanks so much!

...haha, I loved the bit about letting characters take over in the midst of tests. Maybe that's why I screwed up my language final... I let Sae take the test! XD (She's illiterate) Next time, maybe I should try letting Iarin take it for me. XD

Anyhow, thanks!
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Wed Jan 02, 2008 3:22 am
Sasha Arai says...

I have done this before I mean without knowing it. It has helped to.
"Anyone can where a mask but the importance of everyone around them is to see the person beneath the mask, underneath the skin and into the heart."

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Wed Jan 02, 2008 8:33 pm
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Leja says...

5 Tips for More Realistic Characters*

*Results may vary

ah-hem, what's with this disclaimer at the beginning? :P

Lovely article, Razo

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Wed Jan 02, 2008 8:59 pm
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Fishr says...

Nice article :)

A well-developed character will NOT leave you alone.
Nope, my characters do not. They bug (talk) to me night and day at random points, usually when I'm walking alone with my dog. It's weird.

I can't talk with my chars anymore. All of them are so affected by the turn events, and what their future beholds, they're out for my blood. It's fun hearing the threats and the weapons waving about, but in fear of them turning their back on me for like the twentyth time, I typically just listen.

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Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:12 pm
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Monki says...

Raze, awesome article. *raises the ROOF!* Lol. *also bookmarks for future resources* Thanks for writing it. *is glad to know that I'm not the only one who does stupid things, like talk to my characters or letting them be me for a while* Lolz again.
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Fri Feb 29, 2008 10:10 pm
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StellaThomas says...

My diary is just a load of letters I write to my characters.

Mine also interrupt maths tests.

In other words, totally agree. Nice job.
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Tue Aug 19, 2008 8:14 am
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kenni says...

thanks for the help!!! your article is really helpful!!!!!

and i thought i was the only one that was nuts..... just tricking!
yeah nah awesome advice thanks again!
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Mon Sep 29, 2008 6:09 am
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Tamora says...

I'm so glad that someone's confirmed that having conversations with your charactors is alright. Here I was just thinking it was the first signs of madness.

I read it asnd realised I really need to work on my charactors!! Thanks!
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Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:29 pm
Demeter says...

This is really great. I think this'll help me a lot from now on. Thank you!
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Mon Sep 29, 2008 10:20 pm
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ldsprincess says...

That helped alot! I draw my characters too...It's amazingly helpful.
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Tue Sep 30, 2008 1:05 am
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jolander says...

Wow. Are you really only 15? Your profile says you are but your writing and your sense of understanding when it comes to your characters is amazing. There are several good pointers in this article, ones that I will probably use for when I start writing my drafts and such. It is hard to believe that you are 15.

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