Building Realistic Characters

Posted on Posted in Blog, Practical Advice

How do you build a realistic character?

We’ve all spotted that person on the train with a huge grin as they read through some hilarious moment in their book or witnessed the tears staining the faces of those reading a tragically sad story.

The most impactful novels will bring a reader to tears or make them laugh out loud by conjuring an emotional bond between the reader and its characters. A fully engrossed reader will have taken the time to get to know the people depicted and an author must ensure that he/she is doing everything in their power to enable this.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”  ― William Faulkner

As an author, your characters are central to your plotline and well thought-out, three-dimensional characters will naturally pull the story along. Here we have outlined some points to think about when constructing your character. Starting with getting to know your character, which will permit you to accurately portray their journey while ensuring their actions and motives seem authentic. But even after all this, it is important to avoid over-embellishing.

Our Creative Writing for Beginners online writing course will provide you with all the tools you require to set you on the road to becoming a writer, but here are some tips on building realistic characters to help get you started.


Who is your character?

First and foremost, it is important that you know and understand the person you are building. You must know your character before you try to convince your readers. A believable character will be someone you care about and, in turn, someone your readers will want to care about too.

Write out a profile for your leading men and women on an A4 piece of paper and list aspects such as name, age, family, friends, background, hometown, appearance, personality and so on and so forth. Think of everything that makes you who you are and devise those facts for your character.

As the list grows longer and wider with different traits, don’t be afraid to add details that sound obscure. Anything you can think up for that character can be built into their personality. They refuse to buy or wear socks of any colour other than hot pink? Write it down.


What is your character’s journey?

Once you have invented a good character profile, and you’ve got to know them, you can start to think about their actions and motivations. Ask yourself what your character ultimately wants from the situations they find themselves in while referring to the answers to the previous questions.

Think about whether your character is likeable. What are their flaws and fears? Pinning down these aspects will shape your character’s journey gradually as you begin to understand how they would think and feel in different scenarios.


Sparing inconsequential details

Although you have put together a comprehensive list of traits, flaws, motives etc., your readers will not need to know all of the intricate details. Everything that makes it onto the page must add to the story in some way; everything you write must have a purpose.

Remember our character who only likes to wear pink socks? This fact might not make it directly into your storyline, but might cultivate itself in another element of their personality. It could lead them to becoming a fussy person throughout your narrative.

To recap, by figuring out who your character is and building their profile, you will set up the basics, the next step is to get to know your character by learning their motives and personality. And finally, to ensure the storyline remains on the right path, only give away the essential bits of your character’s personality that are relevant to the story you are writing.


For more writing tips, read our blog entry by Penguin Random House Editor, Selina Walker.


Read additional information and find out how to enrol on our Creative Writing for Beginners online writing course.


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