Today’s guest blogger is Sean Hastings, the youngest member of my spring writer’s group. At 16, Sean already has demonstrated a knack for writing about espionage and the clandestine arm of the CIA. Here are Sean’s techniques for creating realistic characters in novels.
Sean with Congressman Tom Price.
If you’ve never heard of me, then I’m not surprised. I’d actually be worried if you haveheard of me. My name is Sean Liam Hastings. I am sixteen years old and a high school sophomore from Atlanta. I’m an aspiring novelist and I first met Anne while attending a writer’s workshop in Alpharetta hosted by author Jedwin Smith.
I’ve been reading on my own since I was around three years old, and writing stories since I was a child. I have always loved reading, going through six to ten novels a year. I guess it is no surprise I developed the urge to write my own, then. One thing crucial for any story is characterization.
For me, characters are what really make the story. A book can have a great plot, and a great narrative, but if the characters are one-dimensional or unlikeable, then a great story turns into a mediocre one at best. For me, an interesting, engaging, and likeable character can help get a reader through even the most banal of moments. It’s no surprise to me that developing characters is one of the hardest parts of writing. I see them as a bridge between the story and the reader and/or audience. They help the viewer or reader get into the story; they give the audience a reason to stay interested.
Unfortunately, characterization is an art and a science, and it is quite difficult for writers of all genres. Developing characters takes a great deal of imagination, planning, and thinking. But it is not impossible to learn how to do it, or to improve at developing characters.
The best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard about developing characters are this, “The best characters are real people.” I’m not saying you should look at the people you know and set them in a story; characterization is a more intricate process than that. Instead of basing a single character off of all the characteristics of a single person, I have found that basing characters off of traits of many different people blended into one can help. And do NOT use the name of someone you know, unless you clear it with them, or else it will open up a Pandora’s Box of trouble for you. TRUST ME!
To do this, try observing the people you know. Look at their strengths, their weaknesses, their likes and dislikes. The way they walk, the way they talk… all of those things. And then select various traits from them and put them into the characters. This will make them seem realistic — human, if you will. Oftentimes, the best characters are the most relatable ones. Not the strongest hero, not the weakest nerd, but someone with a combined set of strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, and characters shouldn’t be, either.
All in all, the key trick to writing great characters is to make them seem as humanlike and realistic as you can. Reliability is the key, the feeling that, “This character reminds me of myself or people I know,” will definitely help a story and a writer’s career. I wish ya’ll the best. Good luck with your writing.
Reach Sean at SouthernWriter2 on deviantART, where he posts short stories and fan art related to his favorite shows and works of fiction.
All great observations. Good luck with your writing. I will now be on the watch for your first novel.
Thank you Sean for sharing your thoughts on characterization! “Nobody is perfect, and characters shouldn’t be, either”. Loved this! I wish some of seasoned writers would learn this! I am looking forward to your novel and maybe we can do your book launch at Peerless Book Store!
Thanks. I would love to launch the novel there.