Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

Hi. I'm Alexi. Before we get started, there's some things we need to get out of the way.


My advice is not gold. It's probably not even silver. It's not law. It's just advice. But I've been writing for years, and I've been working on this for a few days now, so It'd be pretty nice if you listened to me.
Writing believable characters starts off pretty difficult. The first characters you write will probably be shallow, and/or idealized versions of
yourself. Your first villain is probably 'just evil because he's evil'.
Your characters fall into a number of stereotypes, and become labeled by them.
Maybe you want to avoid Mary Sues so you make your characters plain.
Maybe you write extrasuperfabulous people because you want your characters to be liked.
DON'T WORRY. THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. EVERYBODY STARTS OUT LIKE THIS.
Throw this mindset out the window, because:

There is one thing that every main character needs to be.



They don't need to be likeable. They don't have to be good people. They don't have to be attractive. They don't even have to be very relateable (although they should be relateable to some extent).

But above all else, Your characters need to be INTERESTING.

Why? Because who wants to sit down and read about a boring character? This is why people hate 'Mary Sues' and clichés, because they're just boring.

I'm  not going to talk about stereotypes or Mary Sues (very much) because, we're going to focus on making real, gritty characters. Even if your character has a few 'Suey' characteristics, they can still be great characters? What's the big secret? Well, read on my friend.

For every good trait, there is an equal and opposite bad trait.



Is  your character super-mega-sexy? Well, she's probably also super conceited. Are they innocent and optimistic? That means they're probably  also naïve or oblivious.

There are several different ways to balance your character out. I'll be using my own OC (original Character)  for all the examples.

Good Trait=Bad Trait

For background characters, and for simpler traits, it can be this easy.

Claire is Independent=Claire is selfish.

For more complex characters, and in most cases, it isn't this easy.

Having a very strong traits leads to sub-traits that balance the original trait out.

Claire is Independent= Claire is selfish/assertive/untrusting=Claire has high self value=Claire is egotistical.

Claire is Independent=Claire is creative/unique=Claire is crazy.


One strong trait leads to several sub-traits. You can create a whole character based on one individual trait.

The Character Diamond

This is a very basic explanation of the "Character Diamond," originally designed by David Freeman:
Base Trait:
This trait is the 'spine' of your character. It's the main trait of your character. It doesn't necessarily have to be a positive trait.
Supportive Trait:
A somewhat less important trait, but still vital to the way a character thinks and acts.
Or course, a character can have more supportive traits.
Fatal Trait:
This is a trait that almost always brings your character in awkward or dangerous situations. Your character may deny that this trait exists,
but it's there, no matter what. It's always a 'negative' trait, and a character's weakness.
Hidden Trait:
A hidden trait is a trait that your character is often unaware of.

Okay, this is the professional one. Any balanced character should be able to fit into a character diamond.
To prove it, I'll use a well-known character, Harry Potter.

Base Trait:
Bravery. Harry is a very gutsy
Supportive Trait:
Stupidity. If Harry was a bit wiser, he would be more cautious.
Fatal Trait:
Curiosity. Harry's need to do things people have told him not to constantly leads him and his friends into trouble.
Hidden Trait:
While it may not seem like it, Harry is arrogant. He often refuses help.There's also the fact that Harry always feels as though he needs to be the hero.


There is a reason behind every trait & choice your character makes.


Background:


We are built from our experiences. A character's background is the cause for their traits.

Where they're from: When  we are raised within a culture, the traditions and quirks of that culture rub off on us. An Egyptian man acts very different than a Canadian one. Do your research.

When they're from: Likewise,  even if two people are from the exact same place, if they're from different times, they're obviously going to have different behaviours, because there is a difference in the environment and what is acceptable.  Say there are two women who were born in Greenwich, London. They  are both middle class, and they have similar personalities. The first one lives from 1882-1945. The second is born in 1970. While it is the same exact city, these women live in entirely different worlds. The first one lives through WWI and WWII. She sees women's suffrage, the loss of the British Empire, and the decline of aristocracy. She sees the  arrival of electricity, telephones, and the railway. The second woman lives in our world, in a country where women are treated equally, and social class no longer matters as much.

Social Standing: Another  thing to consider about behavior. When you're rich, you have more opportunities and luxuries than a poorer person. In places where social standing means everything (e.g. India and Castes) this will affect your character more. Education also makes a world of difference.

Other Characters: Do you ever find yourself doing things that you've noticed your friends do?
It could be anything from saying a word a different way, to a change in your opinion. When we like people, we become a bit more like them, in
very small ways. Your character's relationship with other characters
shapes them. This is an important part of your character's backstory,
and how they develop within your story.

Backstory: We are made of our experiences. Everything  in your character's back story contributes to their outlook on life, and their behavior. If your character has had a horrible life, but trusts easily and thinks the world is a great place, then you have what is called a continuity error. Continuity errors occur when you contradict yourself when writing, for example, if you have a character who is allergic to peanuts at the beginning, and gorging on PB&Js the next.

For important characters, it is essential to have a basic idea of their backstory. This is where character sheets come in. You don't need birthdays, favourite bands, and pets for everyone.

However, whenever you introduce such information to the story, write it down in a character file. This will save you loads of time searching, later.

So, the homework here: write out basic backstory info for all main characters. Note down all features mentioned in the story.

I'll list some good character sheets in the artists comments.

Motivation


We do things, because we want things. Everything you do is in hopes of a
desired outcome.  I am writing this article so more people know how to write interesting, dynamic characters. I have the fan on because it's stuffy and I want to cool down. I ate cake with lunch because cake tastes good,  and I wanted that taste in my mouth.Similarly, your characters are driven by motivation, and until they get what they want, they will act in order to do so. Conflicting desires lead to, you guessed it.... conflict! It's great to put conflict everywhere you can in a story. It's fun to write.
Motivations, and the reasons behind a character's choices define them.

Likes & Dislikes:
Likes and dislikes play majorly into our motivations. Victoria tripped Susan because she hates Susan--> Victoria tripped Susan because she wanted to see Susan hurt. Make sure that a character's preferences don't contradict their motivations.


Human reactions validate your characters.



This  is the real ticket for creating believable characters. It not only validates your characters, but all the absurd things that can happen to them over the course of your story.

Say Iris Farthing was born with bright blue hair (a classic sue-characteristic).

This is completely unnatural, and probably very frightening for her parents. Can you imagine the following scenario?

Iris's mother only shows the baby to close friends & family, and becomes very reclusive.

As soon as Iris is old enough for reception/kindergarten, her mother begins bleaching her hair, so she looks like her parents.

Iris  grows up feeling very conflicted, introverted and sheltered. She has the feeling that she cannot show herself to the world, because it will cause harm. Anger starts to build inside her.


You see what doing one extraordinary thing can do to a person? It builds great conflict. You could write a whole story about that conflict.

Also note, a great part of Iris's personality comes from the fact that she has blue hair.

The bottom line is, you can throw any number of absurd things at your characters, and as long as they react like a proper human being.

Do your Research!



This  is extremely important in all writing, but it is so, so, important that  you research things you are unsure of with your character. Does your character have an eyepatch? Put one on for a few hours and walk around the house. Is your character a firefighter? Research all you can about training/what it's like/ things all firefighters know.

THERE IS NOTHING YOUR READERS WILL HATE MORE THAN AN ERROR OF THIS KIND.

It's insulting. It usurps your entire reality. Let me repeat that.

THERE IS NOTHING YOUR READERS WILL HATE MORE THAN AN ERROR OF THIS KIND.

Never go OOC!


This is an important note. As I said before, there is a reason behind every choice your characters make. If your character does something that seems drastically OOC or (out of character) then our belief will be shattered. If your character goes OOC
then, well, there had better be a damn good reason for it. Sure, characters grow and change, and sometimes you can mistake OOC for character growth and development. Growth and development is fantastic!
OOC isn't.
But I promise you, you will know when your character does something they wouldn't. It will feel unnatural. Look out for it!
Of course, if your character takes a love potion or suddenly looses all their memories there will be change, and probably OOC, that's a damn good reason.

Avoid Stagnant Characters!



You've heard the saying about how people change, right? Well, characters do too. When you write a story, you set your characters up against a
conflict. Each time a character moves past a conflict, they change.

This is part of letting your characters grow naturally. Don't force them to
be the same, or micromanage them. They'll start feeling fake to both you and your readers.

Some characters will change less than others,  these will be your minor characters. Why? They've had less conflict and reason to change.
There is also a theory that in classic good vs evil, the good guys win because they've changed and grown as a character, and the bad guys loose because they've remained static.
There's a number of stories that prove this to be true (anyone remember the lion king?)
So, remember: Your main characters need to be dynamic. Minor Characters remain stagnant as a way to measure the change.

It's okay to base characters off of yourself and/or people you know.



As long as you don't idealize them, this is perfectly fine, and makes
writing much easier. Don't treat them as favourites either.

Have fun.


The bottom line is, if you want to make your characters unique, you don't need to give them special powers and mysterious pasts (although, you can if it suits you), give them character!
You have no idea how freeing writing messy, faulted characters is. It makes them enjoyable to write about and explore as an author. It also makes them more interesting and relateable to the reader.
If you're willing to take my advice, please try to keep it in the back of your mind while writing.
If your looking for examples of great, realistic characters, I have a reading list!
The Discworld Series-Terry Prattchett
Howl's Moving Castle-Diane Wynne Jones
Anything by Neil Gaiman, particularly Good Omens
The Harry Potter series-J.K Rowling.
The Hunger Games-Susanne Collins.
Anything by John Green, particularly The Fault in Our Stars.
Great Character Sheets:

Other (better) character tutorials:
[link]
[link]
[link]
[link]
Other tutorials by me:[link]

If you think there are ways this tutorial could be improved, you have questions, or you would like to dispute one of my suggestions, please comment! :heart:
Add a Comment:
 
:iconpatty-kun:
Patty-kun Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is very helpful <3
Reply
:iconnoirtora:
NoirTora Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you for writing this article, it was very helpful!
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2012  Student General Artist
I'm glad you think so. Looking back, I don't find it to be very coherent.
Reply
:iconreligion0:
Religion0 Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
I have a question for that "Do your research" part. I see where you're coming from, but what if I need to include some violence? I really don't feel like going out and getting myself beaten up. Any alternatives you'd like to recommend?
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2012  Student General Artist
That's very true, I would suggest going to first person sources and other narratives, along with remembering any sort of accidents you've had. News reports about violence. It won't be pretty, but it'll be the most authentic thing you can find without starting a barfight.
Don't trust movies for violent scenes, because they're usually painted up and people fight through way more than should really be possible.
I don't know a lot about fighting, but that's all I can think of.
I hoped that helped. :)
Reply
:iconvexatious-beastie:
Vexatious-Beastie Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is a great like bit of advice for beginner writers. :)
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2012  Student General Artist
I'm glad you think so! :D
Reply
:iconhundefrau:
hundefrau Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This tutorial helps a lot, thank you for making this :D
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012  Student General Artist
That's great. I'm glad to help.
Reply
:iconseihana-chan:
Seihana-Chan Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Student Writer
Thank you for the advice. I've actually taken a few litmus tests on my own OC, and I've found that they can't exactly be based on every scenario. For instance, one of the questions is "Is xe a hybrid... does xe have all of the benefits and none of the drawbacks... or does xe have all of the flaws and none of the benefits?" I keep thinking, my character is a cyborg, but she only has some of the benefits. She is also very clumsy and sarcastic- a very human persona.

But this is a good guide. I'll refer to it often.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Student General Artist
Oh, that's fantastic to know.
Reply
:iconmidnightdestiny04:
MidnightDestiny04 Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome! More helpful info for my OC's!
Thank you!
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011  Student General Artist
:la: I'm glad to help.
Reply
:iconvelkynkarma:
VelkynKarma Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
"It's okay to base characters off of yourself and/or people you know."

I can't stress this one enough to people, whenever they ask me for writing advice, so I'm glad you've put it down here in your tips.

I've found that when people write Mary-Sues, they're usually unaware that they are writing them at all, especially when they are new to the world of writing. Which is perfectly fine. As you said at the beginning of your guide, everybody starts out writing this way.

Once people figure out that they are writing Sues, though, I've noticed there's almost an immediate backup and panic as they try extremely hard to write the most anti-Sue characters possible...and that makes them go in the exact opposite direction of where they really need to go. New writers I've talked to are afraid to give their characters any of their own personal traits or their friends' traits, because it would be Mary-Sue-ish.

Which is a complete lie. If you're really truthful about yourself or your friends, basing a character off of them will work very well...because the author, and his/her friends, are human. If you include your negative traits alongside your positive ones, your character will be well-balanced like any natural human being, and you will have a good character foundation. The problem with Mary-Sues is that they're author-avatars with dozens of good qualities and no bad ones (except major angst that conveniently makes itself known when the plot dictates it should). But cut that out, and you'll have solid, believable characters.

Oh my, didn't mean to turn that into a rant, it's just...it's funny how often people are afraid to use themselves or their friends as a character base, or a source for human traits, and it's a sad mistake. I'm glad you pointed out this is not the case at all.

~VelkynKarma
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Student General Artist
No problem, I often rant myself, and I fully agree with your sentiments. :)
Reply
:iconbluesolitaire:
BlueSolitaire Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
Again, something I can use. :aww: Thanks for taking the time/effort to make these. :D

One of my fave characters is a jerk. He's not likable, not even I like him for what he does/how he acts. But something we need to remember: to make a character more dimensional we have to accept the fact that he/she does things/believes things we don't agree with. Even to the point that we can't "agree to disagree". We push ourselves to make the character continue to do/say the unthinkable.
Also I made a fave character OOC due to illness (brain tumor). He does a 180 in manners. :(
A few of my OCs are based on bits of me: one is my wit and humor, another my justice and stubbornness, yet another my calm-thinking analytical side. It goes on. Not one has all "my" qualities though. They may or may not be "Sues". :shrug:
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Student General Artist
I'm always glad to help. :D
I certainly agree. I know I wouldn't be able to stand some of my favourite characters in real life, but I still love them.

I'm pretty sure your characters aren't "Sues" , just remember the balanced trait rule! :)
Reply
:iconextrics:
Extrics Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Static characters are still needed though. Boring as they are, they help give a measure of change.

You should probably tack on that there's online sites that help people measure how mary sue-like their characters are.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
You are right about Static characters. I was only thinking of main characters when I wrote this, so I've added that to the bit on Stagnant Characters.

I've never been a big fan of the Mary Sue limitus tests, and one of my points was that your characters can be sue-ish but still be proper people.
Reply
:iconextrics:
Extrics Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I prefer starting with the litmus test because it gives me a point of reference to start with. I like how a few of them group certain traits together so I can easily see if I'm going overboard with a certain characteristic or not developing another enough. Though I do see your point. "D" from Vampire hunter D is probably one of the highest scoring mary sue characters I have seen but he's still beloved by many fans.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Student General Artist
I've never done it that way, but if that works for you, go for it!
Reply
:iconextrics:
Extrics Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
XDD I believe that is just a preference thing XDD
Reply
:iconvelkynkarma:
VelkynKarma Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Litmus tests can be tricky too because they don't account for world-building, which can jack up a character's points a lot. If, for example, your character can fly and teleport, and also has some other supernatural power, your Mary-Sue rating will go up...but what if that's the norm in that character's particular world, and everybody has those powers? Maybe your character lost their whole family in the war, but what if the war was so wide-spread in such a small country that pretty much everybody lost somebody close to them?

The litmus tests that I've done rarely if ever account for "standard" powers or histories or situations, which I think is a flaw in them as a whole.

(Although they do still serve as a decent checklist of "cliches you should probably avoid." )

~VelkynKarma
Reply
:iconextrics:
Extrics Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've seen a few that do account for some peculiarities of the setting. I still stand by what I said before though, they are a nice reference point to start with. It doesn't mean that it necessarily has to end with a perfectly normal, low score. It just something nice to start with when choosing character traits. I never use it again after the first check on the character.
Reply
:iconpaladinofmana:
paladinofmana Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
Just thought I would say, "Not every character you make has to go through changes, but it's recommended that your main characters do." Static main characters can be rather boring.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
Your main characters should never be stagnant. They're the ones facing the conflict. They have to change.
Reply
:iconpaladinofmana:
paladinofmana Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student General Artist
..I think I just said that?
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student General Artist
i was agreeing with you.:)
Reply
:iconpaladinofmana:
paladinofmana Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Student General Artist
Okay, Because I figuratively had been looking at my comment a thousand times trying to find out what sort of grammar mistake I must have made somewhere xD.
Reply
:iconvon19:
von19 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student Writer
Sweet! Bookmarked, faved & Downloaded! Thankies :D
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student General Artist
Aww, it's my pleasure. I'm happy to help!
Reply
:iconspirograffe:
spirograffe Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
You've got some extra end tags...

But this is a good tutorial :D

It's weird, 'cause I never really think about characters other than "make them people" and then to have this like, "look, there are methods!" is kinda cool.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
Bloody underlines. I've fixed 'em.

I'm glad you think so!
But, y'know, making them people is important too. :D
Reply
:iconspirograffe:
spirograffe Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
What tags need to be repeated and which ones don't is like... weird.
"You can end multiple tags with one~! Oh, except < sub > and < sup > , which always need their own individual ending. ...But they can end your other stuff."
Logic, plz? XD

Yeah, but it's cool that there's like a way to do it.
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student General Artist
Recently, I've found they don't show if you do it like this:
<b><u>Hello</u></b>
Hello
You probably already knew that.

I'm glad you think it's cool. I've found it kinda helps too.
Reply
:iconspirograffe:
spirograffe Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
Yeah, it's silly :P
Reply
:iconjackal-sandwich:
Jackal-Sandwich Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
The best part of making a character is picking out his/her faults, IMO
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
What does IMO mean?
Reply
:iconjackal-sandwich:
Jackal-Sandwich Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
"In my opinion"
Reply
:iconpuppy-eater:
Puppy-eater Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Student General Artist
Oooh.
Well, I do agree with you.
Reply
Add a Comment:
 
×

:iconpuppy-eater: More from Puppy-eater


Featured in Collections

Writing Tutorials by SaigoNakisage

Writing by Shandra78


More from DeviantArt



Details

Submitted on
August 24, 2011
File Size
13.1 KB
Link
Thumb

Stats

Views
2,521 (2 today)
Favourites
148 (who?)
Comments
37
×