How real are the characters you write?
This summer, I read a great story about a man trapped in a spiraling depression after learning that his teenage daughter had been killed in a car crash. He learns of her death while floating thousands of miles up in space. Back home, he struggles with guilt, loneliness and the will to move forward. He's a bit pitiful and annoying at first. He sleeps with his neighbor's wife. He doesn't take care of himself. He cuts his own adulteress wife off from their joint bank account. Then comes a moment in the story where he starts to show his true self, his possible self, and you really want him to be okay. This is the moment the character became real. ( I encourage you to read THIS book.)
People aren't one-dimensional. Possibly not even two-dimensional. We are multi-faceted. We are not equal parts good, bad and ugly. We are imperfect. Characters need to be the same.
This is not an easy task for the writer. Here are some starter tips to create real characters.
1. The Woody Allen Recipe. If your protagonist is insecure and lonely, add a likable quality. Sense of humor, compassion, trustworthiness.
2. The Martha Stewart Recipe. If your antagonist must be despised in the end, start her off being clever, kind and helpful. Then put her helpfulness to the test where she helps herself in spite of others. Let her get caught. Readers can pity her without rooting for her.
3. The OJ Simpson Recipe. If your antagonist must get what they deserve in the end, let it not be enough. Start them off as very popular and lovable. Put them in a situation where they hurt the protagonist (not physically, perhaps mentally or emotionally). They lose their popularity but maybe gain a sick notoriety. (This is a good recipe for a bully or mean girl.)
4. The Ebenezer Scrooge Recipe. If your protagonist is pretty despicable in the beginning but must transform into a lovable person in the end, reveal his Achilles heel early on. He's impatient and rude, but he has a niece he adores. He's cheap and critical, but he can't pass up a stray dog on the street.
You get the picture. Creating real characters is a lot like baking that delicious chocolate cake. Start with a good recipe then add some surprises. Not too much. And always find someone to take a small taste before you share it with a large group.
What are your real character recipes? Share them with us.