As a writer, these are two very different, but very similar concepts to consider while penning a story. For one, no one would be able to invent anything new if they didn’t imagine something that didn’t exist. And two, there is a certain and specific point where reality and imagination join and then separate.
When I write, I choose to toe that fine line between what’s real and what’s a design of my creativity. One of the biggest hurdles for me is writing male characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love the strong, cocky, vulnerable types that turn adult and adolescent women into quivering puddles of goo (Jace Lightwood, I’m looking at you).
I was once warmed at the thought of the brooding, dark, sensitive male figures of literature. But, I also found that I was missing something in their characterization: reality.
I wanted to tell the story of real men (and women) that readers could absolutely hate and fall in love with at the same time. After all, don’t you have those moments where you’re not only irritated and “in hate” just a little with your significant other, but you also love them for who they are, despite those flaws?
That’s what I want from my characters.
From the very beginning of Afterimage’s conception, I had one goal: to write real people. It was a task that I gave my writing group as they started to critique my writing. Their job was to let me know if my characters ever said or did anything that a man or woman normally wouldn’t do.
This targeted specifically my lead man: Nate. Given his background, I knew he’d have issues; not only as a former soldier, but as a person who’d lost everything.
So these are my top 5 things to keep in mind while writing realistic characters:
1. Emotions: Both men and women have them, but they definitely deal with and express them in very different ways. Not only do you have to consider how your specific character (with his bad boy background, his love of Fritos, and penchant for tapping his toe to a silent beat) would react in a situation, you also have to step back a notch and think, “How would a MALE deal with this situation differently from a woman?” For instance, you may also write a female version with the bad GIRL background, a love for Cheetos, and a predilection for snapping her fingers. What makes her reactions different from her male alter-ego?
2. Likes and Dislikes: Part of writing a character background is including everything you’d write about yourself. Not just how tall they are and what high-school they went to. Even if you don’t include any of it in your writing, even a prisoner stuck on the moon of Neptune has a favorite band. Think about why they like or dislike those things. You will find out more about them as a person than just knowing what their eye color shimmers and glistens like.
3. Consider their physical flaws/perfections: This kind of goes hand in hand with the emotions. Everyone has something they want to change about themselves. Women (typically) never feel good enough, while men (typically) look at themselves in the mirror and see Thor looking back at them. Even so . . . Thor realized that he needed to become grounded. Your villainous cheerleader bully probably hates the shape of her thighs. Yes, even your villains need to be human (this is where I respectfully bash the Eye of Sauron. I mean, come on Tolkien! A giant fire eye?).
4. Change: Everyone changes throughout life. Whether for good or bad. It’s a fact of life. In order for your characters to be believable, they have to change. It’s inevitable. Where is your character going to start, and what will they turn into? The most important part of this change HAS to be something that hits them deep. If it’s a superficial influence, the change itself will also be superficial (for instance, the geek who becomes popular because the popular kids pretend to like him).
5. Never. Under any circumstance. EVER: Writing “How To” lists are just lists. If someone tells you that your characters are one-dimensional. Brush them off. It just means that you haven’ gotten to know your characters well enough yet. All the information is there, you just have to find it out! They’re friends—friends that you’re still getting to know.
And that’s it. For me, that’s where stories really exist—in that place where imagination might just be reality.