How-to Tuesday

How to Bring Your Characters to Life: Part 4 – Fine-Tuning Your Character’s Personality

Every week, we update our current how-to series about creating realistic characters, entitled “How to Bring Your Characters to Life,” providing a handy activity to help you turn your characters into realistic “people.” Last week’s post was about deciding how your character views their world. This week, we will fine-tune your character’s persona by figuring out what how he or she is viewed by others, and how your character views himself or herself.

Fine-Tuning Your Character’s Personality:

Last week, you decided whether your main character was an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist. Now, you have the fun task of deciding whether other people perceive your main character as he or she truly is (or thinks that he is) or in a very different way. For instance, many people perceive themselves differently than others see them. Perhaps a giving person’s subtle acts of kindness go unnoticed by others, and he or she is perceived as selfish or inconsiderate. Or perhaps your character seems friendly and helpful on the surface, but is actually a manipulative villain who uses their friendly exterior to lure in their victims.

As a writer, think of the other characters as a mirror for your main character. As humans, other people reflect our inner selves back to us. Our emotions, personality traits, and feelings are reflected off the people around us, either when they give us similar responses to our own or when they give us predictable reactions every time we express our emotions and feelings.

In your story, think about the way your character acts towards others, and the way they react in return. Is your character hostile and mean, causing others to shun and isolate him? Is your character shy, causing others to feel awkward around her too? Or does your character’s shy quietness make others suspicious about her true motives? Is your character friendly towards others? Do others react in a friendly way back to your character, or do they think that your character’s friendly personality is just a disguise for something else beneath the surface? It’s all in your hands, so get creative!

Activity #1:

Have a conversation with somebody close to you, such as a friend or family member, and observe their reactions and expressions to see if you can catch any signs of them mirroring your own behavior. If you notice anything, take notes about it, and see if you can incorporate the expressions or reactions into your story later.

Activity #2:

Take some time to think about these important questions:

1. How does your character desire to be viewed by others- as he or she truly is, or differently?

If differently, how so, and why? (For example, a con-artist or a thief might want to be seen as trustworthy, in order to most easily deceive others. In another example, a selfish person might want to be viewed as generous, because he or she feels guilty about always getting everything his or her way.) Just because your character wants to be viewed differently than reality doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a bad person. If your character wants to be seen differently, then perhaps that could inspire your character to truly change (for the better or worse) throughout the course of your story, which could be very interesting for your readers.

2. Does your character view himself or herself as he or she truly is, or differently?

If differently, how so, and why? (For example, a compulsive liar might not realize that he is a liar, and might wonder why other people don’t like him or take him seriously. In another example, a mean person might not know that she is as mean as she is, because she never took the time to put herself in other people’s shoes.)

3. How do others actually view your character at the beginning of the story?

Why? Think of specific examples.

4. Does the way that others view your character by the end of the story change?

Why or why not? How does your character feel about that change (or lack of change) and why?

5. Does the way that your character views himself or herself change by the end of the story?

Why or why not? How does your character feel about that change (or lack of change) and why? (For example, if your character realizes that he or she was being mean or selfish before, he or she might feel bad, but then if your character goes further and decides to improve on those negative aspects of their personality, they might feel proud of changing themselves postively in the end.)

Activity #3:

Once you have decided how others tend to view your main character, consider three different characters who are close to your main character (such as a parent or sibling, a best friend, and a co-worker, schoolmate, etc.). Describe each character first, then describe how that particular character views your main character, and give 2-3 specific examples explaining why, such as an instance in which your main character did or said something important to give that character that impression of him or her.

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