Developing Character Traits for Realistic Fiction Stories
Realistic fiction features characters who deal with believable internal and external conflicts. One mistake many writers make, though, is directly stating a character's key attributes in the narration rather than showing it through their behavior and key information. By developing relationships, past experiences and personal habits, you can create dynamic, believable characters who will bring your realistic story to life.
Characters who deal with believable internal and external conflicts:
- Their Backstory
- Dealing with conflict
- Interpersonal Connections
- Habits and Mannerisms
- Avoid Stereotypes
In real life, people's present-day behaviors, decisions and fears are often motivated by past experiences. Writing a detailed description of your character's upbringing can help you reinforce existing traits in your story. Consider what her childhood home life was like, her happiest and saddest recollections and what memories continue to haunt her. Tina Morgan of the online writing magazine Fiction Factor suggests incorporating hints of the character's past throughout the story to give readers a glimpse of what has shaped her.
Dealing With Conflict
Thinking about how your characters would realistically handle conflict can enhance their believability. Writer and psychologist Carolyn Kaufman suggests zeroing in on the personality trait your character has worked the hardest to achieve, then imagining his response to a conflict that this quality can't rescue him from. For example, your character may be a rich executive who habitually uses money to handle problems. When another character threatens to expose his shady business practices and won't accept a bribe, the situation forces him to handle the conflict in a way he isn't accustomed to.
In real life, you can learn much about people by observing their interactions with others. Similarly, you can use your character's interpersonal behavior to illustrate personality traits. A character who is seemingly kind and polite in conversations with others, then gossips behind their backs, communicates insincerity; conversely, someone who listens carefully in conversations without interjecting his own opinion can be seen as unselfish and keenly interested in others. Carefully constructing the details and dialogue in these exchanges can reveal a character's significant attributes to readers.
Habits and Mannerisms
Behavior is another way to make your characters vivid and realistic. For example, a nervous character might stutter, bite her nails or fuss with her clothing. Kira Lerner and Toni Walker of the fiction resource website EpiGuide.com also suggest brainstorming behavior by outlining a typical day in your character's life. You can make up her morning routine, work responsibilities and where she eats lunch. While you probably won't use all this information in the story, this exercise can provide ideas for ways to reveal character through behavior.
Writers often rely on cliche details to reveal a character's personality. For example, readers may expect a rebellious character to have tattoos and piercings, wear a leather jacket and ride a motorcycle. Try to come up with a fresh way to reveal character traits rather than relying on stereotypes.
For example, instead of depicting a country singer who parties in bars and works on pick-up trucks, you could make him a chess enthusiast with a Ph.D. in philosophy in addition to his music career.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.