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How to Write Realistic Characters

    an over the shoulder shot of african american woman writing about realistic characters in her notebook

    It’s no secret that realistic characters bring life and realism to a story and make it unforgettable. A realistic character is a character who’s complex and multifaceted. Readers connect with them because they feel like real people. But if you, the writer, don’t treat your characters like real people, you better believe they’re not going to feel like real people to your readers.

    There are several different methods writers use to develop their characters into more life-like people. One great way is to make the characters do something. Put them in different scenarios and then write mini stories about them outside the context of your larger story. Seeing how your characters act in different scenarios shows you who they are as people.

    This was my motivation behind making the Random Scenario Generators. On the surface, the scenarios seem mundane but any scenario you can put your character in can be a treasure trove of information. (Plus, it’s just a fun challenge to try and create something epic out of something mundane.)

    Let’s Look At An Example

    I’ll use my Single Character Scenario Generator for this example. And I’ll be exploring a character my sister and I created named Corey.

    Scenario prompt: 
    Corey goes to a sporting event.

    Alright, like I said before, it’s pretty mundane at first glance. But let’s dive a little deeper and ask ourselves some questions. 

    Does Corey want to be at the sporting event?

    What sporting event did Corey go to?
    basketball game

    Did Corey go with other people?
    Yes, his friend Tukker.

    What are his feelings once he gets to the sporting event?
    Dislikes it

    With these questions answered, we’re already creating a pretty realistic character. But let’s take it a step further. Let’s write an incredibly short story. Like 100-200 words short.

    a close up of a young man wearing a leather jacket

    The Mini Story

    Corey has never been to a basketball game in his life. He’s never even watched one on TV. Hell, he’s not even sure what basketball is. But he knows Tukker must have been desperate if he was asking him to go, so he says yes. He knows he’s going to regret it. 

    When they get to the game — dressed in his leather jacket, faded blue jeans and beat up sneakers — he sticks out like a sore thumb among the team apparel clad crowd. He barely notices the funny looks everyone gives him. He doesn’t have much fun, and wouldn’t go again on his own, but if Tukker asked him again, he’d probably say yes.

    What Did We Learn About the Character?

    When I’m done writing, I take a look at what this story is showing me. Here’s what I’ve learned about Corey:

    • He’s judgemental: evident in the fact that he’s never seen a basketball game but still dislikes it
    • He’s a pessimist: assuming he’s going to hate the game before he even gets there
    • Isn’t afraid to be different: not noticing/not caring about the weird looks he gets
    • He’ll do anything for his friends: he went to the game for the benefit of his friend and would do it again even if he didn’t really like it.

    Now we can see how Corey is becoming a more and more realistic character.

    Why This Is A Great Way to Write Realistic Characters

    These mini stories can be written in either the past or present for your character. Writing them in the past can create a memory bank for your characters. All of our experiences as humans help determine how we act in the present. So, when you’re writing a particular scene it’s much easier when your characters have real memories to draw from. 

    It’s also just plain fun. Creating realistic characters can be a daunting task. But doing what all writers do best, telling stories, takes the difficulty out of it.

    Now It’s Your Turn

    Hop over to the Single Character Scenario Generator and try this out for yourself. Feel free to share the results in the comments or tag @52Prompts on Instagram.