Interesting and developed characters are vital to carry a story. Even if you have the most thought-through and gripping plot, if your characters aren’t convincing, the story won’t be either. Having the basic framework of a character is good, but how can you take that one step further to make your character believable and real? This simple exercise will help you shape the complex personality traits your characters need.
To make a character believable for the reader, you have to understand them as a writer. Even if they fall into a cliche category such as the school bully or the single 30-something, every person you meet in real life acts and reacts to things slightly differently, and therefore, every character should be the same. And this complexity is something you have to make sure you understand when crafting your character and as soon as you’ve convinced yourself they’re real, the character will sell itself in the narrative.
As a starting point, you’ll probably have basic knowledge of your characters (i.e. their name, age, what they look like etc.) and you’ll probably know what role you want them to have in the story (i.e. the antagonist, the hero, the love interest etc.). But to really get into their head, it’s time to strip away the complex narrative they will soon be a part of, and take them somewhere very mundane.
Putting your character in a boring, everyday situation is the perfect way to get in touch with their personality, behaviour and attitude and better understand how they’ll handle the bigger plot points waiting for them.
Some of the best places to take your characters are:
- The swimming pool
- The supermarket
- A clothing shop
- The shower
…anywhere that everyone goes, and everyone acts differently. Imagining how your character would act in this very specific everyday situation will help you get a better feel for who they are.
Let’s take the swimming pool for example. Perhaps your character strides in, skin-tight speedos and dives in the deep end before completing length after length with no rest. Maybe your character has a full-face of makeup and a push-up bikini top on, sits on the edge of the pool, terrified to get their hair wet. Your character could be checking out all attractive men/women, as well as themselves in the mirror, before meeting their partner. Are they nervous, excited, self-conscious, confident, happy, sad, uncomfortable? And why?
Write a small sequence for your character in any everyday or mundane setting/situation and really pinpoint the personality traits that drive them to act that certain way. When you think about it, you could probably do the same for your favourite characters from the books, programmes and films you love too, which just goes to show how important crafting a complex personality is. Once you can imagine their behaviour here, you can imagine it anywhere and you’ll really start to believe in them, just as you do with your favourite characters.
Good luck writing, and let us know in the comments which situation you took your character to.