More Tips for Writing Realistic Characters


You have your plot plotted, the story structure figured out, setting set, all the big pieces in place. You know what will happen to your character and you know whether it’s a boy or a girl. You’re all set, right?

Okay, slow down a bit. The thing about writing novels is that everything is intricately connected. Sometimes frustratingly, maddeningly connected. So, if you haven’t already done so, consider thinking about a few things.

First things first. What does your character look like? What does he love/hate? What is your character’s problem? His problem is tied in with the plot. Matt just bombed the SATs but he needs to get into a great college or his parents will disown him.

Next, what’s his weakness? Maybe Matt has trouble talking to his parents. Maybe he hates confrontation. His weakness will compound the problem, both of which, yep, you guessed it, are tied in with the plot.

So, those are the big things. (For more on writing characters, see this post). But what about getting into your character’s head? Here are few lesser known ways to really bring a character like Matt to life.

  • Go on Pinterest and search Character Inspiration. Scroll through all the pictures and decide which one best resembles the character you had in mind. Or maybe you haven’t really been able to picture him or her. Now you can. And now you can describe inBrynn, 17, has memory gaps, doesn't know why she is at the asylum, desperate to know her past: more detail her looks. I’ve even been able to discern a certain character’s attitude by using pictures.  For instance, look at the character on the left. What would you deduce from looking at her?

I think she looks worried, maybe even afraid. She might be holding on to a deep secret.

Or how about the guy on the right?  To me he looks happy, open, fun-loving. He looks like the kind of guy who would be a great best friend. Dauntless trainer. Riley. 21 years old.: Getting a visual of the character can go a long way in helping you understand him or her better.

  •  Remember that you are not simply writing a character you like. In fact, sometimes, especially in the beginning of your story, you may not like him or her at all. But all characters change in the story–that’s the character’s arc. You get decide how a character changes, but don’t make him or her perfect. Don’t make her into your idea of a great girl.
  • You are not writing about you (unless you’re writing a memoir). You are writing from a character’s perspective. Get to know your characters as best you can. Make them say what they would say, not what you would say. Make them do what they would do, not what you would do.  You have to learn to separate yourself from you character. Get into her head. After all, it’s kind of fun pretending to be someone else. Although, if you enjoy being in your villain’s head way too much, we may have to talk.
  • Do some free-writing before you start working on your manuscript.  Write as your character doing something, anything, even if it’s not related to the story. I once was given an exercise in a writing class where I had to put my main character into a scene that included a car show and gunmen. It was totally unrelated to my story, but it helped me see how my character would act in a stressful situation. But you don’t have to even think of a specific situation. You could simply talk to him, ask questions. Or write dialogue with someone else.
  • Do nothing. Yes, really, nothing! Take ten minutes to meditate before you start writing. Clearing your mind a bit will help you get into your character’s head more easily. And by the way, YouTube offers some great guided mediation videos.

While writing a good story hinges on every element working together,  characters are the first thing a reader encounters. Make them stand out. Make them interesting. If you draw your readers in with a compelling character, they’ll want to know more, and most importantly, they’ll keep turning the pages.

Happy writing!