Tiger Crab Studios
Advice: Writing Relatable Characters, Quick Fun Tips
A common writing issue I see come up is how to make relatable or realistic characters in fiction. Many writers and creators worry that the characters they create will not come across as authentic, real or connect with the audience.
There are many guides available on how to do this, but sometimes they can be quite lengthy. For example a commonly suggested practice is to write absolutely everything about a character, their favorite food, star sign, what is in their pockets, if they like their middle name... absolutely everything in order to create a full person. Or another common piece of advice is to read more books...
But that is not why we are here, we are here for quick delicious bite sized nuggets of wisdom for giving characters more life and give you a more confidence when putting pen to paper. Here are some reminders I give myself when I feel a little stuck, or need a little amusement.
Everyone Can Be a Moron
Unless you are writing the new Sherlock Holmes, everyone makes mistakes, drops the ball or muddles their words. If you have ever read the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, you will know just how boring the Sherlock Holmes can be as he faultlessly paces through every solution to every problem without a hair out of place or a word wasted. If your character is feeling a little lifeless, give them a chance to mess up or show their imperfections. It doesn't have to be a big event, something simple like misplacing their keys or accidentally swearing at work is sufficient.
Stress and Anxiety
Everyone has triggers, think of what particularly causes stress or anxiety for your character. This is important because most people consciously or unconsciously act to avoid their triggers. In the Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) many people laughed at Jamie Foxx's character when he turned evil just because Spiderman forgot his name, but that could have been a deep emotional trigger for him as a result of growing up neglected. For example, a character might feel anxious seeing someone else boasting because it reminds them of their big-shot older brother, or a character might become stressed when they feel like they are given a command because it reminds them of a mean teacher from their past. There are many different triggers and people react to them very differently, so have fun being inventive with it.
You probably have a fairly good idea how your character behaves when life is going well or average, but it is very enlightening to image how your character might behave in the worst of circumstances. Even if you have no actual plans to put your character into a dire situation, imagining how they would react to something like a their partner having an affair, losing their legs, or even a full zombie apocalypse can tell you a lot about them. Imagining how your character would act when things go really bad can feed back into their depth as a person. A great example of this is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, where the protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge consistently presents himself as a certain person in most circumstances, but when faced with his own death by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, shows the reader a completely new side of himself, stripped of all his defenses and bitterness.
Similar to the last point, most people behave differently in different company. You character will likely be a slightly different person when at school, to then going on a date, to then battling enormous space insects. Don't be afraid to reflect these small changes in your character's outward presentation, and use it as a contrast for what is happening for them internally. The most extreme example of this would be George Orwell's 1984, where the protagonist Winston Smith must behave vastly differently when at work to when he is alone or with Julia, or else he would suffer dreadful tortures at the hands of the Thought Police.
Most People Are Similar
In the end though, most people in life are very similar. If you are really stuck, it is okay to imagine what you would do in your characters' position, or what someone you know well might do in that position. As much as people strive for individuality, really we are all very similar, with similar fears, aspirations, desires. We mostly want to feel loved, accepted, secure, and mostly want to avoid pain, abandonment and danger. If you cannot relate to your character then there is a good chance your readers might not be able to either. Examples of characters with vast differences finding enough commonality to come together... Zootopia, X-Men, Batman vs Superman, Alien vs Predator, Shrek, and so on.
The Reader Does Half The Work
Just like a good joke needs someone to tell it, and someone to get it, the reader has half of the responsibility to connect with your character. And just like we can see animals and faces in the clouds, the reader will find a way to connect with your writing if you give them enough chances. Hopefully remembering that it is not completely your responsibility to forge a connection can often take away a lot of the stress and pressure of writing, and allow you to create more freely.