By: Mikayla S. Moss
In sixth grade, I took a chance and enrolled in a drama magnet program. I already knew I had solid acting ability, so I assumed performing on stage would be a piece of cake. What I didn’t realize was that before my instructor allowed us to be under the limelight, she had to make sure we knew our characters. This meant we had to look up the play, and if we were writing a new character we had to answer these annoying questions like, “What’s your character’s height?” “How much do they weigh?” ”Do they have parents?” I thought this was a waste of my time, but ultimately I realized that getting to know my character made me feel connected to her,a nd made her come to life.
This same practice applies to writing. The books, movies, TV shows, etc. that are the most engaging have the most well-rounded characters. You can write a fantastical world into existence, but everything will fall apart if the audience can’t connect with the people you created. There are so many aspects that go into making realistic characters, but here are the 3 I think are most important.
What drives your character? What is pushing them?
Discovering your character’s motivation will tell you a lot about who they are.
Let’s take Harry Potter, for instance. When Harry stares into the Mirror of Erised (a mirror to show you your deepest desires), he sees his parents with him. Growing up with extended family who thought he was no better than a mutt, Harry wanted nothing more than a loving family. He wanted his parents alive and well, guiding him through the wizarding world. Harry’s motivation drives the plot, so if your characters don’t have any wants, you’re writing a pretty shallow story.
What does your character look like? What’s their style?
We’ve all seen Captain America. He’s strong, handsome, all-American in his red, white, and blue suit. But when he’s in his layman outfits, he’s just scrawny Steve Rogers.
The screenwriters for the movie emphasized Steve’s short stature in Captain America’s origin story because it plays a huge role in understanding his character. If you say your character has braces and a lazy eye, this gives the reader a hint into the character’s backstory.
People have flaws. People act and sound different. We all come from different backgrounds. It’s our job as writers to get the scoop on our characters. For example, if you’re writing about someone from India and you’re not originally from the country, you have to research India. Talk to someone who’s from there. Understand their culture and their dialect before you put any words to paper.
Often, I pretend that I’m talking to my characters (it looks weird), but I do it because I want my audience to love them, hate them, and care about them just as much as I do.
Take the time to get to know your characters, and they’ll begin to become real!
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