How Do You Make Your Characters Real?

June 17, 2013

Wanted: Charlie Brown

I started reading this book over the weekend and it wasn't before long until I tossed it to the side. It isn't an uncommon thing for me to do, as not every book is worth finishing, but I did ask myself, "What made me lose interest?" 

I then realized why - I had no connection to the character. I had no sense of their background, their desires, their fears, nothing. I may as well have been walking past a group of strangers in the mall and catching tidbits of a conversation. I like when characters jump out of the page at me and when they begin to feel real as if they could step out of the page and talk to me.

It's really easy for me to criticize when an author of a book I'm reading isn't doing it, but how about if I want to try to do it myself? How can I make my own characters real?

1) Learn the idiosyncrasies and unique behaviors that make your character stand out from everyone else.

I remember I took a psychology class (I dropped it after one class session, but that's besides the point) and the instructor asked us: what made us unique and special snowflakes? All snowflakes are different, right? So, why are we different?

What makes your character different? Do they take a scooter to work? Do they bike? Drive? Walk? While we may not think so at first, these small matters do make us different in some way. The person who bikes to work has a different story than the person who drives.  Even the coffee we drink can make us unique. The calm guy who drinks chai tea in the afternoon can be way different from the jittery female who drinks six cups of coffee a day.

2) Get inspired by people around you.

I take the bus so this can be pretty easy to do. If I just start paying attention to people, I can note the unique characters that surround me. There are people who choose to spend their time talking with the bus driver, people who find comfort in the bus community and have no problem chatting with other bus riders, people who shut out the world on headphones, bookworms, business people, and so many other characters that surround me. All of these behaviors can be plucked out of reality and placed into the character I've created (and these are just people I don't know!).

Take a notebook and go into a public place and it won't be long before you are building a set of characteristics for your new character. Or start taking a discerning eye to the people that surround you in your life (and if they happen to see themselves in a character or two in your next book, well, that's just coincidence, right?)

3) Write their backstory.

While this story may not even be used in the novel or short story you are creating, write your character's history. Imagine your character has walked into group therapy or even individual therapy and you are the therapist guiding the discussion. What would your character talk about first? What are their parents like? What was growing up like? What were significant moments of their past? What are stories they tell everyone more than once from when they were growing up?

It's a unique way of giving your character depth and you may not use an ounce of a word from the "therapy" session you wrote out (or thought out), it will make your character stand out from the page.

Now, I know I could go on with the type of things you can do to make your characters real, but I want to hear from you instead.

How do you make your characters real? What do you do to give them depth? 

Disclaimer: This post contains a link for which I have received compensation using in my blog. The content within the post is my own.


  1. I make them think what we've all thought but are too polite to say out loud. :)

    She takes particular note of other characters' physical attributes no matter how unattractive. Big, red nose with excessively large pores.

    She'll note stagnant breath while dealing with a drunk. She'll get frustrated with her mother and yell when mother butts into her love life.

    She'll pretend to wipe down a counter top when there's nothing to be wiped clean, just because she needs to stay busy but remain put, waiting for someone to say something she wants to hear.

    Stupid stuff like that. :D

  2. I give my characters flaws that usually stem from something that happened when they were growing up. I also give them a dark side. The one thing I can't stand is a perfect character.

  3. That's easy. My characters ARE real although many are amalgamations of several people I knew. I would pick the most interesting traits of each and put them all together.


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