Fleshing Out Your Characters: How to Make them More Realistic

We’ve all been there. A great idea pops into our head, giving our heart a jump start. Our thoughts race as timelines lay themselves out. We think of every scenario we can put our characters through—wait, characters? Yep, those people who our readers become so invested in they cry with them, laugh with them, sometimes get so frustrated with them they wanna smack them. They’re one reason our stories exist and one way we hook our reader into continuing on. How do we get to that moment where our readers become that invested in our characters? Read on for your answer.

As writers we need to understand that, while we’re composing a story for our readers, our first audience members are ourselves. If our characters don’t occupy a unique space in our minds where they live and breathe, coming to life off the page, what makes you think it’ll be any different to the reader? Understanding this basic principle is the first step in your character development. You need to find your best, most interesting character in the story. If that isn’t who you’re already writing about, then change it. That’s who you should write about.

So, how do you create unique characters that grip your reader? How do you flesh them out? Follow some of the prompts below to help you develop your character.

Personality: Are they shy? Outgoing? Do they have a short temper, or is their patience that of a saint? Personality is one of the first things you build your character off of. This shapes who they are from the inside out; it’s this aspect that readers latch onto as they progress in the story and connect with your character.

Looks/Traits:

  • Physical Traits: Blonde, Brunette, or Auburn hair? Green, Blue, or Pink eyes? Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, Black? Physical traits are the second thing your readers will connect with; having a character that looks similar to your reader allows them a chance to put themselves into your characters shoes. Of course, this won’t apply to every reader out there, but your characters traits are a vital aspect for any type of creation.
  • Defining: How do other characters in the story view this one? Are they the stereotypical jock? A delinquent? Are they quiet or outgoing? Do the follow others, or do they lead others? Each of these aspects shape the way your character will react to the challenges you set up for them in the story.

Background: Odds are, you’ll be the only person to see the extensive background you create for your character(s). This is because there’s often so much of it, that you wouldn’t be able to fit it into your story line while still maintaining a proper pace; however, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a vital aspect. Where did your character come from? Did they grow up with one parent, both, or none? Do they have a trauma? If so, what is it? Physical, mental, both? All of these questions are the answers to why your character has the personality you set them up with in the beginning of the story.

Above are the standard aspects of any character. You’ll find them in most, if not all books you read. It’s the most skeletal form, and while it does lend to some depth in your character(s), it’s nowhere near what it could be. If you want the type of character that your reader falls in love with, there are many more, tiny aspects that you should include in their creation.

Hobbies: We all have them. I love reading, writing, traveling. My hobbies lead me to the groups of people I talk to and connect with. Your character should have their own hobbies. Their hobbies will define parts of your characters. If they play tennis, they’re sporty. If they’re on the debate team, they’re logical thinkers. The hobbies of your character will build around the other aspects you’ve already created, such as their personality and background. Someone who grew up in a family that adored sports most likely won’t join the chess team, but have more pull towards athletic teams.

Likes/Dislikes: Dogs or cats? Sweet or bitter? Our likes and dislikes define the way we react and interact with certain things around us. Maybe your character is pranked, given a bitter, black coffee over the sweet caramel vanilla cappuccino they usually enjoy. The fact that they dislike bitter things set off the prior aspects we analyzed about them such as not getting upset because they have patience and don’t easily get annoyed.

Clothing/Style: You won’t have a goth character suddenly start wearing bright, pastel colors and holding up a peace sign. If you do, then I hope it’s Halloween, and they lost a bet; either way, the style you place around your character gives their personality more chances to appear in a natural setting. This will also influence how other characters react to your MC, which could lead to more tension in your story line. Do they spend money on their clothing, or are they thrifty? How does your character’s personality and background influence these characteristics? These things say something about your character, it’s up to you to define just what that is.

Inner Struggle: What is your character constantly worrying or arguing with themselves over? Do they want to be less shy, but are too scared to come out of their shell? Are they unsure about their sexuality, and the way others would react? Do they know a secret that they can’t tell anyone? These inner conflicts within your character has makes them more relatable to the reader. There’s nothing more interesting than either (A) finding someone you can relate to, going through the same things as you; or (B) finding a fresh perspective to see the world from.

Outer Struggle: Society vs Person, Nature vs Person, Person vs Person, etc; these are your character’s outer struggles and they’re what push your characters to their physical, and sometimes mental, limits. They challenge them in the physical world at the same time your character’s inner struggle challenges them. To have characters that are unique and coming off your page, both these have to compliment and challenge each other like a game of tug and war.

With all these aspects in mind, let’s put this into practice going back to the shy character perspective.

Christopher Zeklin wants to become more out going, but traumas from past abuse within his house have taught him that a quiet voice, or no voice at all, is the less painful way of life. Echoes of pain all over the body have taught them that anger is a frightening thing, and growing up speckled with bruises leads to a taste in clothing that can be unforgivable in the hot summer sun.
Life was simply for Christopher until his company gets a new intern that threatens his own experience. With an outgoing personality, Kelly Dubois is a bundle of laughs, smiles and adventures from her home country in France. She has no trouble getting along with her peers and supervisors, fitting in with the crowd as if she’d been there all along.
The moment the two meet Kelly’s new agenda isn’t just making it in the company, she wants to get to know Christopher. With the trauma of his past still haunting him, and the overbearing personality of Kelly pushing him to be something he isn’t, Christopher’s ordinary life as a wallflower starts to crumble around him.

Alright, let’s analyze this example. Keep in mind, that not every aspect will be gleamed from a few short paragraphs. Your character development will go well beyond a simple blurb that would be found on the back of a book.
Character: Christopher Zeklin
Personality: Shy, quiet, extroverted, Patient
Traits: From what we can gauge from the text, they’re most likely a follower over a leader. They seem like someone who would be jumpy and not very argumentative.
Background: He’s from an abusive household which has taught him he’s better off remaining quiet rather than speaking his mind. This has led him to have a relatively quiet and lonely life as he doesn’t appear to get along with other people.
Hobbies: We’re not given anything concrete, but based of his personality and what we’re given from his past, we can predict the types of activities he may be interested in.
Likes/Dislikes: We know that he doesn’t like conflict, and he doesn’t like his current personality.
Clothing/Style: Based on his past abuse, he would seem to have an affinity for clothing that hides skin such as long sleeves, sweatshirts, jeans, and jackets.
Inner Struggle: He wants to become more outgoing, but his past tethers him to his current way of life. It’s a conflict between who he wants to become and who he already is.
Outer Struggle: This would be Kelly pushing him past his comfort levels to become something he currently isn’t.

I hope this post has been of some help to you. I only brushed the surface of character creation and development, but if you’d like more on the topic, let me know. If there’s another topic you’d like me to cover head on over to the Contact Me page and send your suggestion my way; otherwise leave a comment on the post. How do you develop and flesh out your character? I’d love to know. Until the next post.

All the best.

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