Sources of Characters

By Nicholas Klacsanzky

Hi everyone.

Today I am going to talk about characters in creative writing – again. Well, it cannot be helped – characters are as important as the story (or should I say, you can hardly write a nice story without characters), so creating them is a solid part of a writer’s work.

On this blog, we’ve been discussing ways to make characters more realistic, how to erase them from a story, how to write dialogues for them, and other important stuff; we haven’t, however, mentioned the sources from which an author can draw inspiration for creating their characters.

To fix this injustice, here are five tips that will help you create vivid literary characters:

  • Observe real people in their natural habitat. Okay, jokes aside, but there is really no other way as effective as this one to gather material for a whole bunch of characters. By observing people, you can learn a lot about how they react, talk, move, solve problems; you can notice a correlation between someone’s character and their behaviors. All this you can directly copy into your story – of course, without providing those details which can disclose the personality of your character’s real life prototype (if they don’t give consent).
  • Observe yourself. This is even more exciting, and gives you even more information that you can use later. Moreover, you can allocate different traits of your personality between different characters in your story, making them part fiction, part real. This will add credibility to their motives and behavior, which is what you need.
  • Browse information about different types of neurosis: how people with anxiety, OCD, and other atypical psychological features behave, talk, and act. Yes, I know this may sound like a strange piece of advice, but there is a reason: people with neurosis often possess distinctive, unique qualities; their negative traits (like excessive irritability or shyness) are often compensated with outstanding talents; imbuing your characters with a neurosis or at least some of its qualities is a way to make them more alive and vivid. Just don’t say directly that “John had an OCD” or something like that.
  • Talk to people. Conversation is a cradle of all kinds of ideas, revelations, and information; contact people whom you are interested in, or who at least do not belong to your regular surrounding – become pen pals with a Chinese housewife, for example. This is not only an interesting experience, but also a way to learn something new, to get inspired, and gather material for your characters.
  • Read classical literature. Classic authors, while being sometimes hard to read, were great in disclosing personalities of their characters. Such writers as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and many others were titans of thought and psychology; they could see through the shroud of manners and courtesy, and dug out the real, sometimes vile and hideous motives that drove not just their characters, but real people as well. This is indeed an experience you should not neglect.
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