Before we brought our readers a piece on a reader’s perspective of irksome character qualities. Today we’d like to offer some helpful tips on developing your characters from an editor’s perspective. Today’s post comes to us from Elizabeth Rains. Elizabeth is a journalism graduate with editing experience, and she is available for freelance editing work. If you would like to contact Elizabeth about contracting her services please email her at email@example.com.
Creating characters that don’t seem too … well, fictional … can be challenging. How do you both create characters that seem realistic, and then introduce them without stopping the motion of your story?
- Introduce characters slowly (in number and description). Adding all of the details at once stalls the action, and introducing too many might confuse readers. Readers don’t need to know everything about your characters—provide the opportunity for them to create their own images.
Instead, mention a few facts about your characters when you first add them, and include the rest as the story progresses. You didn’t know absolutely everything about your friends when you first met them, did you? (And, you probably still don’t.)
- Give them flaws. And, like in job interviews, being a perfectionist is not a flaw—unless being a perfectionist causes your character to drive away his wife or because her perfectionism results from a bad event in her past, or something like that. No one is perfect; your characters shouldn’t be, either.
Perhaps your protagonist has a scar or tic that embarrasses her or a regrettable tattoo that she got while drunk and on spring break in Paris (even though her parents thought she was spending the week leading an after-school program for destitute kids). Maybe he endured a traumatic event that still affects him.
- Provide the backstory to what makes them human. Even if it’s only a sentence or two, it will increase believability by giving them histories—and we all have histories.
As you slowly introduce the character, include why she’s embarrassed about the tattoo or what caused the scar; such detail reveals more about the character (and maybe your plotline). How does your character react to triggers that remind him of the event?
- Decide how your characters will change through the story. Granted, there are some instances in which characters are not meant to develop (i.e. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?”). However, your protagonists will most likely change.
What will cause them to change? How will they change, and why? How will this affect other characters, as well as your storyline? Being able to answer these questions is crucial to not having stagnant, perfect or otherwise unbelievable characters.
Creating relatable characters will better enable your readers to identify with your story and will help you become a better storyteller. How do you make your characters seem more realistic?