Most writers and readers will agree that characters drive good narratives. We need characters that we can relate to and enjoy in order to best experience the story. It is how we most effectively enter into the story.
So when writing, it’s rather important to come up with characters that feel like they could be real people. You want your characters to have diversity; and by diversity, I mean a diversity of ideas and personality. There are a number of ways you can achieve this in your writing.
Base Characters off of Real People
One of the easiest ways to add realism into your story is to write from real life experiences. As the saying goes, “life is stranger than fiction.” I guarantee you know someone in your life who would be the most interesting character in a book. People are weird. Use that.
That being said, depending on how well you know them, you might not want to write them directly into the story. Take some of their characteristics for inspiration, but don’t re-create their personal life events in your fictional narrative. Often when I base characters off of real people, I find them quickly taking on a life of their own and acting in ways that the real person wouldn’t. But the real person inspiration adds a level of depth to the foundation of that character.
Base Them off of Other Characters
Often other fictional characters can offer inspiration as well. Especially if a character is extremely well written. By taking inspiration from a different fictional character, we can learn what makes that character work so well for audiences.
A lot of this is driven by archetypes. There are different character archetypes that work very well. A very common one, especially in Young Adult novels, is the character of the Mentor. The Mentor character is most often an older male who helps guide the protagonist during the first act of the story. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the mentor for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Gandalf is a mentor for Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.
In these cases, the older male is experienced, wise, and easy for the audience to respect. But you can take and archetype and change it up a bit as well. Haymitch is a mentor for Katniss in the Hunger Games, but he is a change from the usual Mentor figure because he is distant and reluctant at first, and he is almost always drunk.
Give Them Flaws
This is absolutely necessary if you want your audience to relate to your character at all. Everyone has flaws. These need to be character flaws, skill flaws, personality flaws, etc. Your character shouldn’t always be right, or make the right choices, or be good at everything they do all the time.
Pick their flaws carefully. Their flaws should help drive the story forward and give them something to overcome or succumb to.
Diversify Their Motives
Your little band of heroes are heading out to save the universe, but it’ll add more to the story if they all have different reasons for their actions. They might be doing it for the sake of pure righteousness, but if the motives are smaller they will be more relatable to the general audience. Heading out on an adventure to save the life of a sister, or get justice for a murdered a father has more emotional weight to it than the “greater good.” Though your character motives can change overtime to be more noble. Audiences like seeing characters grow into heroes.
Utilize Personality Analytical Systems
This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to add depth to characters. Using personality analytical systems, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the Four Temperaments, are incredibly useful when planning out characters. I find it especially helpful in making sure my characters aren’t simply extensions of myself.
I have created a Skillshare class on using Myers-Briggs Personality Types when creating characters. It’s a Premium Class, which means you need a Premium Membership in order to view it. However, for those of you who read my blog, I have a special offer: the first 25 people to use THIS LINK can access my class for free! It’s a short 15 minute class with an interactive project.
I hope you found this helpful. What are some of your favorite characters and what about them makes them so enjoyable to you? Share your thoughts below!