Are your characters R.E.A.L.?

Posted by: Rebecca.

Last week, Bridgett blogged about 6 elements of a great novel. I thought I’d tackle one of those points in today’s post. (Whew, wish me luck!)

When you read, what makes you love or hate a character? For me, it’s how the character is developed. In the first few pages, am I drawn into their world? Can I relate to something they are going through? Better yet, am I experiencing their emotions as my own?

Sherbia & Diviak by M. Bergren

Everyone does goofy and stupid things. We all have different ideas of how things should be done, or how we should handle conflict. We each have a different flavor of ice cream we love. Some people don’t even like ice cream. (Gasp!)

So, why not give a character a R.E.A.L.© personality?

Make your characters…

Relatable:

  • Can the reader relate to the situation your character is going through?
    • For example: Diviak, a space alien, begins searching for his mother, whom he found out is a human and from another time stream. Though we may never have been a space alien, we can relate to the search for the one person we want to believe can love and accept us.
  • Does your character have a common personality trait or type?
    • Is your character Type A, OCD, shy, outgoing, manic?
      • Diviak is kind of a play-it-by-the-rules alien, which sometimes causes him to be cautious. He’s learning to let loose a bit with his close friends, thanks to his alien lady-love Sherbia, with whom he shares his softer romantic side. There’s another part of him, however. Beware if you make him mad.

Emotionally compelling:

  • Is the character likable or intriguing? Does his personality lead the reader to share his emotions?
    • What’s not to love about Diviak? A law-abiding guy searching for his mom, and he’s a mysterious being from…elsewhere.
  • Does your character have internal and external obstacles to overcome?
    • Diviak’s father has just passed away. That same day, he receives a key to a travel pod and a letter explaining his mother is human. He doesn’t know the pod is programmed to take him through the time streams to his mother, Once he arrives, he is captured and put on trial, accused of her murder.
  • Can the reader empathize with something your character is going through?
    • Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?
  • Conflict: Every character, even minor ones, should have a conflict of their own, cause conflict for others, or reveal the conflicts in other characters.
    • Diviak’s beloved Sherbia sneaks aboard his pod. He’d finally agreed to marry her, and she’s not letting him escape that promise even to search for his mother. So, she’s determined to help him. Now, she’s stranded on an “alien” world with nothing but a fiancé who’s accused of murder. You can be sure she’s going to make waves.
  • Do your minor characters shed light on the main character’s emotions and personality?
    • Sherbia’s father, a prominent intergalactic official, may not appear in many scenes or have many lines, but he is a consistent source of conflict for our hero and his love. His cold, clinical personality is a great contrast for Diviak’s deep, quiet emotions and Sherbia’s more impulsive nature.

Authentic:

  • What flaws and quirks does your character have?
    • Diviak has a unique/quirky way of explaining life, including odd phrases and metaphors.
    • Don’t make your character perfect. None of us are, why put the pressure on your character or yourself? 🙂 Besides, a flawless character is boring. (Sometimes Diviak takes following the rules too far. Other times, his temper pushes him to forget those rules altogether.)
  • Does the character have an odd way of performing a normal activity?
    • Sherbia tends to operate in fast forward motion, which makes her seem clumsy.
  • Does the character do goofy things that irk other characters or make them laugh?
    • Sherbia loves to turn up her tunes and dance, even though she’s not very coordinated. One afternoon, Diviak catches her dancing to really loud music, and he thinks it’s hilarious. He playfully teases her about it.
  • Your character’s actions and reactions should be realistic and fit his personality.
    • A shy character would never jump up in front of an auditorium full of people and speak her mind, even if she disagrees with what’s being said by others.
    • Diviak is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. (Or did he? Mwahahaha!) He knows Sherbia is in danger too. He is extremely strong and dangerous when angry. He wants Sherbia to get away, so he fights with everything he has in him, hurting a few officers, knowing he will be captured. (A reaction true to his nature.) Then, just as he is about to flee and join Sherbia, he is paralyzed by a serum which Dr. Hunter Trevil, who studies alien cultures, has developed.

Look and sound unique

  • Dialogue and physical appearance must match the character’s personality, environment, station in life, occupation, etc.
  • Dialogue: What is the character’s level of education? Is s/he cultured, a gentleman or a lady? Is s/he from the inner city or the country? Is s/he sweet or sarcastic?
    • Put a twist in the speech pattern (if it fits) and give the character a goofy quirk.
    • How does the character use names?
      • Sherbia’s father, a minor character in our story, always calls Sherbia by her first and middle name together. This is the only character who does so.
    • What is the character’s state of mind? Are they nervous, stuttering or pausing often?
    • When and where are they from? A character from the 1800’s will have different slang than one from 2014. Diviak and Sherbia would use different words for our common objects, or possibly another language to communicate between themselves.
    • Does your character have a unique style of speaking? If so, make sure this remains consistent throughout your story.
  • Give your characters a unique Appearance:
    • What does s/he wear?
      •  If your character is a time traveler, has she acclimated to the time and place she’s landed? Or, does she stay dressed in the clothing she arrived in?
      • The attire can contrast the character’s true personality or fit that personality.
        • Diviak’s accuser dresses in a fine silk suit and wears understated, expensive jewelry, but she secretly enjoys watching her goons torture her prisoners.
        • Tone of voice can also be deceptive, especially when combined with clothes and decor. Just think of Professor Umbridge in the Harry Potter series. Sweet voice, pink dresses, portraits of kittens on her walls, and a quill that carves the words a student is forced to write into the skin of his hand.
    • What is the character’s body language and mannerisms?
      •  Does s/he smack gum, play with a pocketwatch, or fiddle with a necklace?
        • Diviak carries an old coin his grandmother gave him. He fiddles with it when he is stressed or deep in thought. His accuser frequently chews her bottom lip.
    • Some mannerisms could contrast or fit their personality.
      • The arresting officer presents himself as a gentlemen to Sherbia, even offering her help. Behind closed doors, he is awaiting his payday by helping Dr. Trevil plot to use Sherbia and Diviak for experiments. He eventually gives Sherbia an ultimatum.
      • Sherbia is compassionate and trusting. She goes out of her way to help Diviak, even putting herself in danger as an experiment to do so.

Diviak and Sherbia hope their tale, composed just for this exercise, will help all the writers surfing the airwaves make their own characters as R.E.A.L. as possible.

R.E.A.L. method (Copyright 2014 Rebecca Bergren)

Your turn to Shed Your Light below…

Look at your favorite characters from books or movies. What makes them R.E.A.L.?

About the author:

RebeccaRebecca Bergren is a writer with the ability to redefine clichés and travel through time with the mysterious, quirky cast of her novels. Life’s lessons have also inspired her to weave a message of hope and God’s restoration power into her heartwarming screenplays and humorous short pieces.

Rebecca is a member of ACFW, MyBookTherapy, Write Now Writers’ Group, and Writing Craft Girls critique circle. She lives in Minnesota with one fabulous man, three spunky kids, and a marshmallow-eating Labrador.

 

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About Rebecca

Novelist, screenwriter, devourer of books, homeschool mom

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