How to Character: Relatability & Realism



I’ve always felt my characters were my strongest writing asset. Based on recent feedback from some trusted readers, however, I’m starting to think that might not be the case.

Am I discouraged? Not really. Determined? You bet.

Characters are what make a story for me, both as a reader and a writer. I firmly believe that if your characters don’t evoke a response, good or bad, it doesn’t matter how compelling your story is. So when I hear that my characters aren’t relatable enough, that they aren’t evoking a response from my readers, I know I’ve got some work to do.

So the question today is, how do you translate being in your character’s head to being in your reader’s head? More simply, how do you get your reader into your characters’ heads? How do you get everything you know about your characters out there for your readers?

One thing I like to do is use internal dialogue. I’ve pretty much eliminated phrases such as “he thought” or “she felt” from my queue and replaced them with exactly what’s going on in the character’s head. For example, if I want to demonstrate that a character is confused, instead of stating “she was confused,” I might write, “what was going on?” Because when we’re confused, what goes through our heads isn’t “Gee, I feel confused.” It’s something along the lines of “WTF?” It should be the same with our characters.

I also like to give my characters mannerisms unique to them. Little habits they always do, like singing in the shower, or drumming their fingers when they’re anxious. Quirks that we all do, things we may not even think about, but that help demonstrate what’s going on in our heads. Things that make the reader go, “Hey, I do that, too!” or, “Oh my gosh, my husband/sister/uncle does that, and it drives me crazy!”

Now, it seems I’ve got to take a step (or two, or three) farther. Because, while I think my characters are relatable, my readers aren’t quite there yet. Huzzah for the editing stage!

So, here’s what I want to know:

Authors, what tools do you use in your writing to make your characters come to life? How do you make them pop off the page? What character information do you think is vital to your readers?

And readers, what makes a character relatable to you? Think about your favorite characters–what has the author done that makes you love them so much? What do you want to know about characters, and what information is unnecessary? What makes a character real, and how do you like to receive that information?

Now’s your chance to tell me!

Much love!


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