Character Creation 101: Feel Real
Every story needs a hero. Or a villain!
Unless our story has a very lonely hero it will need many characters. But our story does not need blaze characters that are forgotten the moments after they're introduced. We want characters with depth that feel real. Remember those two words Feel Real.
Again if you remember nothing else remember this: You want characters that Feel Real.
I say this because as alive as a character may seem in our head and in our hearts they are not actually real. You can describe every hair on your character's head, the curve of every muscle and the tone of every millimeter of skin and still they will not be real. You can outline and explain every single second of your character's life from the moment they are born until the day they die, if that were even possible in a single lifetime, and the character would still not be real.
Okay then if the character's are not actually real, then how do we make them Feel Real? To answer that I will take my process and make it ours. Before you write or create your story you need to do one thing.
Take someone you know, maybe a friend, or a coworker or neighbor and ask yourself what do you know about this person? Not just the surface things about them, like what sports team they follow or what kind of movies they watch. You need to think deeper.
For example, who was their childhood hero or mentor? A grandfather, father, mother or maybe their favorite comic book character. Maybe they had nobody and fell into a dark and lonely place. What or who do they care about now, their children, wife, or family in general. Maybe they are dedicated to some charity organization, devoted to improving their community or taking part in their university.
At first you might be thinking how the heck do I know their childhood hero? Think of who that person mentions in conversation. Do they talk about a grandmother who they loved to annoy as a child or a grandfather that showed them how the meaning of hard work.
Who or what do they get excited to talk about?
The answers to these deep questions are the answers you need to come up with when creating your characters. Of course you can go overboard and create their favorite flavor of pizza or make them dislike peanut butter. But if that distain for peanut butter is not a deep seated hatred that defines the character it is just icing. Any baker or fan of Masterchef like me will tell you the greatest icing in the world is worthless without a cake to decorate. Once you have your cake and some nice icing you're ready for the next step.
Now that you've thought of a character with depth how do you take that and make it Feel Real? The simple answer is their actions. What they do, and how they speak need to be derived in someway from their deeper self. When talking about a character's actions I often hear the word consistent tossed around. Have their actions be consistent with who they are deep down, consistent with their history, with their motivations etc. I prefer to use the word congruent. If you're a mathematician like me you probably understand the difference but if not I will explain.
With a consistent character their actions remain stable and constant over time. Congruent is a little different, it means their actions are in agreement or in harmony with their nature. Characters can fall flat and become predictable if they are consistent. But by being congruent they are able to react in different ways to a situation and remain true to their inner self. Just like real people a character can avoid something one moment then confront it later.
For example a character that cares greatly for his children might run headlong into a danger to defend them or grab them and flee to safety. Both actions are congruent but not consistent. A reaction that would not work is if he shrugs and walks away. It is not consistent, not congruent and most important it does not Feel Real.
The last step in our process is a little different, namely because it comes after your character has lived through a scene or segment of your story. We go back and read the story twice. The first time to make sure the character is congruent. The second time is to make sure something new has been revealed about our character. By new we are looking for two things, do we know a new aspect of their personality/past or has their persona changed.
If we cannot find either of these things then the scene needs to change or we need a new scene. Which brings me to the topic for next week. The character's objective.
Remember this in your next story and make something special. If you enjoyed reading or found this helpful check out the rest of my blog here or my full length novel here.