As writers we spend a lot of time inside the dark confines of our minds. We often take from the world and people around us to build tangible and realistic story elements. Our characters can often embody people we know well, which can get a little awkward. So, how do we create characters who are relatable without making them exactly like the people in our real lives?
In order to write relatable characters, it is crucial that each one is multi-faceted. Just like the people in our lives have secrets, our characters must as well. This doesn’t mean that we have to divulge all the secrets we imagine for our characters to our readers though.
- Build a character outline – You can use bullet points and keep it brief or you can write a complete summary.
- Include every tiny detail –
- Favorites – color, smell, food, song, sound, season, etc.
- Dislikes – sounds, smells, textures, smells, etc.
- Pet peeves – the sound of people chewing, liars, people who pass in the right lane or who drive slowly in the fast lane, or maybe they find broken cookies infuriating.
- Happiest memories
- Dark Secrets
- Biggest fear
- Weird Talents
- Embarrassing moments, traits, habits etc.
- Don’t forget the physical traits though!
- Height, body type, eye color, hair color etc.
- But don’t forget that there are other physical traits which are very telling!
- Tattoos or lack there of
- A limp, a manner of speaking that is unique, snaggled tooth, missing finger, crooked shoulder, etc.
- Past Trauma
- Everyone has trauma in their past which molds them into the people they are. Take this trauma and truly flesh it out. Taking the time to explore these experiences for your characters can help you to establish deeper scars or fears held by the character which may impact motive for actions taken.
I find it effective to write a complete synopsis for my core circle of characters. However, these are not traits that I write into the story itself. Those elements don’t need to be known to the audience or even to the other characters of the story. Allow your characters to have flaws, fail, and struggle. To have real and relatable characters, they can’t always be efficient communicators or always make the right choices. The consequences sometimes backfire and things don’t go as planned. Sometimes in your story, as in life, the goal is not achieved and instead, everything goes to hell in a hand basket. Don’t always allow your characters to win.
In short, give your characters a complex history as well as a multi-faceted present and an unknown future. Know everything about your characters and allow them to be influenced by their past. However, don’t expose all of it to the audience and keep that air of mystery. Allow them their secrets and the unknown details will paint your characters.
“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wander often for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee