Creating Real Characters

15.02.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course How to write best-selling, award-winning fiction by K.C. Finn


In today’s lesson, the focus is on creating powerful characters who will leap off the page and invite your readers into your story. Having relatable characters greatly increases your connection with your audience and is a key factor in retaining them for future books.



What is it that makes a character real? Why do we connect with some characters in stories and not others? If you have a favorite character from a novel, then you’ll already be able to explain some of the reasons why they’re your favorite. Perhaps they have qualities that you share or aspire to have. Whatever the case, a well-developed character will contain different layers of personality that you can get to know as the story progresses, just like getting to know a real person. Let’s look at some practical methods for creating this relatability.


In Practice

Some writers base their characters on celebrities or people that they know. While this can be a handy initial tool for creating the visual image, voice, or general stance of a character, it’s something that I try to avoid doing. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of creating a carbon copy with no new or exciting qualities of their own, and basing characters on people you know often leads to contrived events in the plot or behaviors that don’t really make sense.

As a starting point, I’d always advise writers to consider motivation. What is it that your character wants from this story? What are they trying to achieve or gain and why? What lesson will they learn by the end of the story, and why do they need to learn it? Building a truly realistic character will answer these questions and give you a personality that readers can read into beyond what you tell them. It’s this kind of connection that makes them both relatable and memorable.


Now It’s Your Turn

It’s time to put your main character under the grill. Turn on the spotlight, sit them in that empty black chair, and begin the questioning process. This is a valuable tool known to professional writers as “hot-seating,” and it allows you to ascertain whether your characters have undeveloped personality areas. Here are some things for you to try out so you can flesh out the reality of your characters:

• Ask unrelated questions: Quiz your character about family, hobbies, childhood, and things that are not related to your novel.

• Put them in a new situation: Writing a slick crime drama in Miami? Take your character to the Himalayan mountains instead. How would he/she cope there?

• Watch them: If you’re an imaginative daydreamer like me, simply sit back, close your eyes, and watch your character go about everyday business. How do they behave when you’re not the one controlling them?

Tomorrow’s lesson will return to marketing approaches for the last time, passing on some truly valuable advice about how and where to spend money on promoting and creating your books. Until then, enjoy getting to know your characters better!

Keep it up! Just three days to go!


Further reading

To develop your characters deeply, try out Proust’s character interview format. It asks very deep questions that you might not usually think of!


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