Chapter 3 - How to Make Your Character Realistic – Warts and All

So, we’ve got some ideas about what makes a character and what makes a story, but how do we make sure that our character is realistic? Once we’ve got a realistic character, we’ll be well on our way to making the character interesting – because real people are pretty interesting, right? Even the ones we might think are boring, like our Maths teacher maybe, or our friend when she talks about what she dreamt about again – even these people must be interesting in some way.

People are complicated, and they have strengths and weaknesses, flaws and virtues, nervous and endearing and annoying habits, and even, occasionally, warts. People have secrets. Sometimes they lie, sometimes they do silly things that hurt other people’s feelings. They have a past, present and a future. Say someone started writing a story about you, for example. In this moment, you are somewhere specific in the world, using a device to load this course. But you, as a person, are an awful lot more than the you that would be depicted in that story, right? You are all the past of your life that’s made you into this person right now, and you will carry on learning and living and growing tomorrow and for many more tomorrows.

Now, I’ll stop before I get too philosophical, but thinking like this is a helpful way to make your characters realistic, too. We want to be able to imagine that they, like you, have had a past that’s made them into the person they are now (were they raised as an orphan? or perhaps they lived on a sailboat till they were a teenager?). We want to be able to see them fully in the present moment – what they look like, sound like, maybe even smell like, and where they are in the world (are they on a spaceship? or perhaps their grandmother’s garden?). And, we want to imagine their future – however eventful and dramatic.

All of this will help to do two wonderful things: make your character realistic, and make your character interesting. That’s what we’re after.

Exercise #1

To get started, jot down your answers to the following questions about your character – either a character you’ve been writing about for a while, one that you wrote about in Module 1, or one that you’re making up as you go along. As with the freewriting exercise, don’t think about it too much, write whatever first comes to mind. Remember though, you are answering these questions as though you are your character, not yourself.

  1. Where and when were you born?
  2. Where do you feel most at home?
  3. Where do you, or would you, like to run away to?
  4. What do you like to do on weekends?
  5. Who are your closest friends?
  6. What do you wish could have happened differently?
  7. Have you ever been in love?
  8. If you were an animal, what might you be?
  9. What is your favourite comfort food?
  10. What do you want?