Characters = People (part two)

All month long, we’re talking about the ways to make your characters more realistic. Click Here to check out where it all started!

 

Today, I have a very simple concept to discuss. It’s one that, for some reason, a lot of authors don’t follow. I’ve seen it in the majority of submissions RAD Writing has received, and I’ve also seen it in far too many published novels.

It's time we...

Ignore the formalities

See, when you’re making a character, you have to remember that most of the time, they’re not going to be in a formal situation or speaking as though everything must be formal at all times. It’s incredibly rare for this statement not to be true. Mostly, our characters are social but not formally so—which means that they shouldn’t act and speak as though they are (i.e. please use contractions, people!).

Too many authors try too hard to make their grammar perfect when they’re writing characters, and forget that the important part is actually the actions and phrases.

Make em wiggle, make em hurt, make em overthink and make stupid decisions, make their minds ramble, make em regret, let em be embarrassed! Why? Because that’s the way life really works!

I would venture so far as to say that most of us are embarrassed by something at least once a day (even if nobody but us sees it). Usually it’s something small that we can easily brush off, but it happens. All of us overthink, I dare say. We all struggle with things. Going for a run makes our legs hurt. We do dumb things. We regret our past decisions, our mistakes. We wiggle when we’re sitting down and when we’re standing. We make weird faces when we hear something we didn’t understand, or when we see something weird on TV.

So why don’t our characters do that?

Well, they should.

That’s my lesson for today. Don’t make your characters so formal that they don’t even seem real anymore. Focus on making them like actual people, rather than putting all your attention on the grammatical side of things.

People talk in fragments and run-ons more than we talk in anything else. Half the time, we don’t even know what we’re going to say when we start talking, so our sentence gets carried away with itself.

But, did you notice that most of us also move a lot while we’re talking? We gesture, we emote, we shift our feet beneath us—and yet characters rarely ever follow suit. Instead, they’re stiff, lifeless, emotionless except within their mind’s exposition.

That shouldn’t be the case.

You should get better at your grammar, it’s true, but when you’re writing your characters, don’t forget that art should imitate life—and that people are the furthest thing possible from what you might consider the perfect character on paper.

Next week, we’ll talk about the different ways to make your characters talk (because it shouldn’t always be in dialogue).

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.