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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

How To Beat Writer’s Block Like A Boss

My previous blog post was all about where I get my ideas from so I thought it only fitting to address the problem of what to do when you’re lacking inspiration to get those very ideas written out. Writer’s block is a common foe to us wordsmiths and also, one of the trickiest to overcome. Or so we choose to believe. So how do we go from Exhibit A to B?

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There are a few ways to remedy the infamous block, ones that have proven quite effective for me in the past. Here are a few general things to try when you get stuck.

  • Distract yourself from the distractions: Focus on your writing and writing only. Often times, writer’s block stems from having too many things on your mind that keeps you from finding the space and correct mood to get the words flowing. In that case, get all those prior engagements done with and create a distraction-free zone for yourself. That might require a little more discipline, especially if you have a lot on your plate from work or uni. Create a routine that works for you and stick to it.

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  • Take a break: If you’ve got the time write but you’ve been sitting there, trying to muster up the words to start your next big hit for over an hour – stop. Stop right there. Forcing yourself to get the words out never works because of that big bad P word – PRESSURE. It ain’t good for your heart and it certainly ain’t good for your writer’s soul. Take a moment to leave the words that won’t come out and go out for a walk, play with your pet, listen to your favorite music or make a good cup of hot chocolate (or whatever floats your boat). You might already have the space to write but it certainly shouldn’t feel like a prison.
  • Stimulation is key to get the ball rolling: The innuendo-lover in me is trying so hard to keep her comments to herself but this point is pretty important. Maybe you’re completely in the zone but you just don’t know where to start. In which case, engaging yourself with sources of inspiration could be your solution. Read a book by your favorite writer or watch a TV show or movie in the same genre as the piece you’re working on. Talk to your friends and family and gather ideas from them too. Interacting with the environment around you can often help visualize what you want to do with your work.
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If you’re stuck on a particular scene or can’t seem to get around a certain development in your story, there are a few more writing-specific solutions that you can try out.

  • Rewrite the scene from another character’s POV: I was stuck on a scene where my protagonist comes face to face with the villain for the first time and no matter what I wrote, the interaction between the two just came out chunky and weird. It felt so off. I was so focused on capturing her emotions, I realized what was missing was his part of the formula. So, I re-wrote the scene from villain’s POV and it helped me discover exactly what I needed to fill in the missing parts of the equation. Although that didn’t make the final cut for the story, it helped me get over the speed-bump. If you feel there’s a missing element somewhere, try and find it.

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  • Hit backspace till you’re comfortable to start again: Let’s say you’ve written the first page of your new chapter but you’re finding yourself unable to keep going. Everything was going well right up to that point. Try cutting something out and rewriting that part in different words to get back your flow. Maybe the last paragraph or two, or even the entire page. I guarantee you, your second rewrite will beat your first. It’s like trying on new pants. You just need to find the right fit.
  • Pull a Leo: And by this, of course I’m referring to the one and only Mr. DiCaprio. He’s infamous for his method acting and dedication to stay in character (Django Unchained anyone?). Try and get into your character’s shoes. Live a day of your life and approach everything the way you think your character would, see it through their eyes. Just don’t go extreme and kill anyone or uh…rub a gash oozing your blood over someone’s face. Nothing that’ll get you arrested, basically.
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And if all else fails:

  • DO ABSOLUTELY           .

(Get it? No?)

Do nothing, my friends. 

Sometimes, you just gotta wait it out. If you’re not feeling up to writing at that very moment, it’s absolutely fine. You should allow yourself to suck once in a while. We all need some time to rekindle the flames and if that means giving yourself some time off from the written word, do it.

You might think I’m contradicting everything I’ve said so far but trust me, if there’s a block that none of the above solutions can solve, it’s probably something a little bigger than you think. Got a personal problem? Are you stressed out from work? Did you watch Infinity War and find yourself unable to come to terms with reality after that ending (I feel you on this one)?

Give yourself a break and get back at it when you can but this doesn’t mean you can:

  • use self-pity as an excuse to get nothing done if it’s something you can address
  • procrastinate away because ‘you’re just waiting for your Eureka! moment’
  • find reasons not to get over it

The best solution to own writer’s block is simply: to write. 

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There’s no one out there who can write the way you do – so go. Don’t try to do perfect, just do you.

Be your own muse.