Lesson #69: Tips for Writing Real Characters

For more on characters, take a look at Lessons 1, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 53, 65, 66, 67, and 68.

Tips for Writing Real Characters

  • What is your character’s personality? What is he/she inclined to do? What are his/her likes and dislikes? What are his/her habits? Take this information and study other people with similar attributes/personalities. Taking notes on others’ ways of speaking/reacting will help you judge how to write this character in specific situations.
  • Villains: write a compelling backstory. Why is this person a villain? What has his/her life been like up to this point? What are his/her likes and dislikes? What changes in life would this character have experienced to have been a hero? Why are this character’s pursuits so important?
  • Heroes: write an intriguing backstory. What makes this person a hero? Why is being a hero important? Why are this character’s pursuits important? How did this character’s family influence his/her life decisions?
  • Secondary characters: what is this person’s life like? How is this person related to the hero/villain? If one major even occurred to this character in the story, how would that said event effect the main characters – and how would it change the life of the secondary character?
  • Make a list of admirable qualities. Are you finished? Now make a list of dishonorable qualities. Create a villain using ten admirable qualities and ONE dishonorable quality.
  • Make a list of annoying quirks. Are you finished? Now make a list of adorable quirks. Create a hero using ten annoying quirks and ONE adorable quirk.
  • Create an alias for your hero using a dozen facts about his/her real life (he likes to play the cello, she has a prosthetic limb, etc.) and a dozen facts that could be true, but are not. Use this to analyze your hero in a different context. How would he/she survive? How would he/she react to situations?
  • Create an alias for your villain using a dozen facts about his/her real life (she loves chocolate ice cream, his brother is mentally disabled, etc.) and a dozen facts that could be true, but are not. Use this to analyze your villain in a different context. How would he/she survive? How would he/she react to situations?
  • Imagine your hero and villain are going to court because of the major event in your story…
    • First, create an alibi for your hero which cannot be confirmed because the witness has disappeared.
    • Then, create an alibi for your villain which is 99% true.
    • Relay the series of events which occurs, erring in the hero’s favor.
    • Now rewrite the same series of events which occurs, erring in the villain’s favor.
    • How do your characters deal with these situations? Explain in detail for both the villain and the hero.
  • Make a list of foods. Keep going. Chinese foods, Mexican foods, homemade foods, store-bought foods, fresh foods, frozen foods. Are you finished? Make a copy of this list. On the first copy, identify which foods your hero and villain love. What favorite foods do they have in common? On the second copy, identify which foods your hero and villain hate (bonus: which foods are your characters allergic to?) What foods do they similarly hate? How does this influence your story?
  • What holidays do your characters love? Hate? Look forward to? Dread?
  • Write down your characters’ biggest weaknesses. Do two characters have any weaknesses in common? (Note: it’s important to compliment a hero’s strengths and weaknesses to a heroine’s strengths and weaknesses – let the romance blossom, but not through mutual perfection). How does this effect the story?
  • Write down your characters’ greatest strengths. Now… how can they fail miserably? How would they best succeed with this strength? Swap strengths between two characters – give your hero the villain’s strengths and give the villain the hero’s strengths (also try with hero/heroine, best friends, etc.)
  • Get to know your characters on many levels. Continue to deepen their points of view. Learn more about them. Create dozens of layers. Knowing your characters will influence how you write them – and how you write the characters will affect the reality of your story.

With pen to paper,

Kayla Woodhouse

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