How to Create Authentic Characters

When was the last time you read a novel whose characters lingered with you far beyond the reaches of the pages they live on? Don’t you love the satisfaction of finishing a book yet still continuing to be emotionally invested and impacted by the stories it had to share?

Image result for finishing a book gif
Maybe not as ‘enthusiastic’ as Pat here but you get the picture.

Compelling characters are the backbone of a good novel. They make or break the plot.

Without characters with strong arcs and development, the story loses its ‘oomph’ factor and becomes like any other mediocre read you have stowed away at the back of your bookshelf.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t wish that upon my stories and I’m guessing, neither would you! So here are some tips on how to create characters with class.

Image result for loki gif

Make Them Real

You would think that we dive into literature and fiction to get away from reality and on some level, we all do. But the characters that stay with us are quite often the ones we relate to the most, the ones that are fundamentally flawed and in being so, are human.

Whether you’re writing out a character who’s a wizard, alien or some sort of otherworldly creature, think about what you want that character to deliver to your readers. Make sure to incorporate certain human nuances to them which, trust me, will only make them stronger.

After all, you don’t want to alienate your readers into feeling this way.

Related image
Don’t put them in this position.

Archetypes ≠ Stereotypes

Character archetypes are figures that resemble a familiar or recognizable set of traits attributable to one person. You might have heard of Jung’s archetypes which come up as a common reference among writers outlining their characters (and is also a credibly psychological analysis of universal personality patterns).

Image result for jung archetypes

Archetypes are a good way to classify your character and also better understand their incentives, fears and how they are perceived by the world. It forms the base to creating your character but the layers you add afterword are what sets your character archetype apart from turning into a stereotype.

You want to make sure you avoid what’s already been done for that particular character type. It’s alright to be inspired by popular portrayals in modern literature and cinema, as long as you add your own twist to the character that makes them stand out in their own way.

Image result for harry potter the chosen one

Unique (and successful) examples of this trope would be Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, Neo from The Matrix and Katniss from The Hunger Games.

Know Your Creation

No one on this planet is more answerable for your characters than you are. You are their God and you should know them to their bones.

All the tiny details build essence and make them more real. Right down to the nitty-gritties such as whether they’re a shoe-shoe-sock-sock person or if they like rap music or their biggest pet peeves.

Every. Little. Detail. Counts.

Image result for reading gifs
Yes, even that.

How can you expect your readers to connect to your characters if you don’t first?

A good way to do this is start with character outlines. Here’s a reference for you to check out and get you started!

Watch ’em Grow

You do not want your characters to be static throughout the novel with zero development. Even if they’re supporting characters, they can’t just be filler props to add depth to your MCs.

Every character has to have good reason to exist and should develop on some level throughout the novel. This is where the element of character relationships play an integral role.

How your characters interact with each other, play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and navigate through these dynamics shape their role in the plot and their impact on the reader.

Related image

Set Them Free

Often times, the plan we have set out for our characters doesn’t pan out exactly as we hoped, derailing to something surprising and perhaps, more wonderful.

Image result for deadpool surprise gif

The beauty of bringing characters into existence includes giving them the power to choose their own path. So many times, I have been unable to write out a scene I planned for ages ago because my characters simply won’t allow it.

It’s almost as if they know themselves better than their own Creator. They break the fourth wall and refuse to cooperate unless I let them do what they choose to.

Related image

The End

The novel may end but your characters don’t.

There is no end to character development.

They will continue down the path you set them and it’s important to let them experience that and try not to control 100% of their journey.

Give them space to breathe and evolve on their own, and you will see them flourish into something utterly captivating.

The Beauty of Character-Mania

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.” – Berkeley Breathed

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “If only they were real!” and understood just how deep those words run. Whether we’re talking about characters from books, movies, TV shows, animes etc. at some point, as readers, we all wish that they existed. To some extent, our desire for them to be real is driven by how much we adore the universe/world they are a part of, or how much we are in love with them. To a greater extent, however, it’s because of just how real these figments of our imagination come to be, and how as people, we are able to relate to them and their story.

Just two weeks ago, before leaving for a challenging exam, I decided to catch up on one of my all-time favorite mangas “Shingeki no Kyojin” (Attack on Titan). Half an hour prior to the exam’s start, I was reduced to tears upon reading the latest chapter and facing the death of one of my favorite characters of all time. I couldn’t get it out of my head through out the exam and in the days that followed.

justinlong_0

On Friday, I begun my obsession with an anime called NANA. After hours of practically binge-watching several episodes, I embarked on a Twitter-rant which provided as an outlet for my out-of-control emotions.

(And that’s just to name a few)

It’s two weeks past the mental funeral I’ve attended for a dear, sweet, boy, and a couple days past the emotional roller-coaster NANA put me in and I’m still mourning for these people, that by definition: are. not. real.

caa365306252b6299ce4c1269c48d774

Am I a freak of nature? No. Is it a crime to have an intense emotional attachment to characters? No. In fact, it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Growing up, I related more to the people that spoke through literature, through the television screen or in my mind than those that were actually around me. During the day, I’d immerse myself in the real world but once I lost myself in the pages of a book or the colorful screen of the telly, I was whisked away to a world unlike any other. I was among friends. I was home.

That’s not to say that I love every single character I have come across. There are several I’ve come to harbor intense animosity toward, for example, Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Shou Tucker (Full Metal Alchemist), and most recently Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). I am continuously fascinated by how capable characters are of provoking a wide range of emotions from their observers which is exactly why I decided to write about it.

Why do we care?

Now I don’t want to get into the science of it, because, yes, there actually is a logical explanation as to why  we got super attached to characters.

tumblr_mkvd9iEHxQ1s1v24vo1_500

In a nutshell, the descriptive language used in a book or the images that jump out to us from the screen all light up a part of our brain that’s responsible for triggering these ideas by linking it to things we’ve already experienced. That’s why when we come across metaphors or vivid imagery in books, it’s easier for us to picture or feel what the writer is trying to deliver to us.

Personally, I believe what makes a character stand out as more ‘real’ than others would depend on the skill of the writer to engage with the reader through said character. To form the kind of bond with fictional people that normally would take years to form with those around us is a testament to how well they’re written. A prime example here would be the case of how people interpret the book version of Bella Swan versus Kristen Stewart’s rendition of her in the movie. I’m not a Twi-hard, but a lot of my friends have commented that Bella Swan in the books was way more ‘tolerable’ than the version brought to the screen.

Whether or not characters are 100% real, the relationships we form with them play a crucial role in deciding how emotionally real they can be. Don’t we look up to certain characters as role models? Don’t we take something away from every person we read or come across?

Writers create characters that are flawed. They give us the reins, as readers, to step into the shoes of different people and learn about them, learn from them as well. Haven’t you ever wondered you could read someone’s mind, know what their thinking or have an insight into their lives? With characters – that’s exactly what happens. They come to be a part of us through the little discoveries we make with every page we turn.

Mr-Darcy-Fan-Art-pride-and-prejudice-34194572-245-250

Why it isn’t the worst thing

Stories are fragments of the very reality we are a part of. Fiction is a mere expansion of imagination that is grounded in the real world, and in what we experience. That being said, although stories belonging to the genre of fantasy, magic realism, or adventure might not be scientifically possible, their characters are still very much real in the sense that their essence is rooted in what the writers know or have felt. These characters help us understand reality.

As a university student pursing a degree in business, the curriculum still requires it mandatory to take up English and Additional Engish (both covering Literature) as two of my subjects through out four semesters. The texts chosen range from poetry and short stories to plays and articles – but each, chosen with a purpose of enlightening us students in one way or the other. We explore characters that are suppressed because of the color of their skin or their gender. We read the impact that a partition of a country or a mass genocide can have on families, on children.  And while, yes, these stories are a work of fiction, by reading about the thoughts, emotions and inner turmoils of these characters – we learn.

Those who say that ‘living in books’ or taking away learning lessons from literature is foolhardy are speaking utter hogwash. To borrow from Phoebe Buffay, what sad little lives they must lead.

Because what better way to gain wisdom than to live a thousand lives?

That’s what every character gives us: an opportunity to let go of ourselves in their reality, in their lives, and in the process come to understand our own.

tumblr_mfb94aMoYv1qgrjt5o3_250

The best characters are the ones that are every bit as real as us.

The best way to build a three-dimensional character is to make them realistic, and not just in the minds of the writer who is their creator and therefore, naturally, knows their in-and-outs but also to the reader. The thing that most people who frown upon us, lovers-of-fiction, don’t realize is that every character is based on someone, or something, or some iota of reality that the writer themselves draw from.

For instance, dementors in Harry Potter are actually a representation of depression. And while these soul-sucking guards of Azkaban aren’t actually going to pop out and try to kiss us (which would be the worst thing ever), the darkness they act as a symbol of is very much real. Depression is not make-believe.

“It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”  – J.K Rowling

The characters we relate most to are believable because they are rooted from reality. As readers, we share something in common with them that way making them every bit as real, if not more, than the people around us.

 

chris9n-3-web

Captain America (Chris Evans) visiting a children’s hospital proving that our heroes are real.

If anyone ever tries to put you down by arguing with you and telling you that these people that make you laugh, cry, feel joy or love are a waste of time – just shake your head and feel sorry for them. Because these characters they ridicule?

They are capable of inspiring and changing the lives of millions of people. They aren’t just printed text, no. They bleed through the pages and into our lives, filling the gap between reality and something more. And those who don’t feel that and condemn others that do are highly unfortunate.

deb0b2e05c5d7467b1895ea8cd0801e7

So the next time you encounter someone in a book that makes you feel a whirlwind of emotions; don’t run away. Embrace them, and board the feels train. While the journey is not one that most take, it is definitely the one worth being on.