What Makes a Character Real?

Isn’t it the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make a character real in our fiction?  Their behavior patterns, their neuroses, their fears, their fetishes?  Actually, isn’t that what makes us real?

What moments happen that make them who they are?  How can we as writers make the reader feel those moments so that the reader can become that character while they are immersed in your novel?  The common thread we all share is emotion.  If we can evoke or trigger an emotion in our reader that corresponds to the emotion of the character, we have hit a home run.  The reader can then empathise and experience the character in their own psyche. 

What I find a fun challenge is to immerse the reader in a character that they might not expect they can relate to.  To create a link between the psyche of the reader and a character whom they at first feel averse to can give the reader a new and unique experience in your book, and perhaps even impact the reader on a more permanent basis.

To do this we need to become students of human nature, human experience, and the human mind and emotions.  Dissecting and discerning the differences between animal instincts, cultural influences, religious imprinting, sexual imprinting, and parental and peer imprinting can be a great place to start.  What makes a person what they are, and how does their unique perspective impact the world around them. 

How do people love?  How do they manipulate?  How do they seek attention?  How do they manifest their emotions through their behavior?  One of the best places to start learning to read these aspects of people is within yourself.  Especially the sides of ourselves that we might not like, or might be embarrassed about, or might not want to see.  Unraveling our own shadows can lead to amazing discoveries about what makes human beings human.

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3 comments on “What Makes a Character Real?

  1. uninvoked says:

    I think all characters are, essentially, an isolated aspect of yourself. I wrote a short story once named Dragon Psychology (published at http://www.sniplits.com) whose main character was a dragon made fierce and bitter by a village attack on her cave. A hero defeats her husband, and destroys all but one egg that was hidden in her husband’s egg pouch.

    The story follows her “recovery” as a bard tries to make peace with her and not get eaten at the same time. ^^

    It’s a good story, and the character has a lot of depth… because her attitude is my ability to hold a grudge. Not the most admirable quality in a human being, but it works well for dragons.

  2. Gidget says:

    Characters, of course, should not just be based upon oneself, unless you want to bore the hell out of your readers over time. Characters, of course, can also easily be based upon interesting people you know, or ones that you don’t know but wish you did. Often those can be the best characters.

    Despite the common wisdom of today’s narcissism in art, I think it is often better when artists concentrate on something other than themselves in their writing or art, because really – most of you just aren’t that interesting. I know you don’t feel that way about yourselves, because you can’t see beyond your own nose, but you’re really not the most interesting person on the planet. Try writing about something other than yourself, and watch yourself grow.

    I also realize that this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom concerning art today, where self-promotion is preached and practiced like an obsessive drug-addiction. The cult of personality is held as the key to commercial success.

    Please do not follow all the monkeys just because they are all jumping up and down and have convinced you that you MUST do as they do. Please understand that you are what you copy….

  3. ejalvey says:

    Actually, Gidget, I tend to agree with you. While we as authors bleed into our characters at times, it is terribly redundant to fashion characters based upon your own view of yourself.

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