Are your characters believable? No one likes to read stories where they can't connect with the main character and can't believe in them. Even villains are better if you can believe that they could possibly be real. In order to create a realistic character, you need to know all about them. While all the details may not—and shouldn't—end up in your manuscript, the background you create for your characters will be the driving force of their actions throughout your plot. If you know your character well, you will never write a scene in which they act 'out of character'.
To discover who your character is, answering the following questions will help. You can write these down in a character notebook that you can refer back to, or you can simply answer each question in your head. Use whichever method works best for you. By answering each question, you will come to know your characters better so that they become vibrant, living characters in your mind—and then in your novel.
What are your character's strengths?
This is usually the easy question. Almost no one imagines a weak, wimpy main character. Make a list of your character's best points in both his personality and his physical self. Is he especially smart? Exceptionally strong? Protective? Loving? What makes her the perfect main character for your plot?
What are your character's weaknesses?
No believable character is perfect or all-powerful. If your character has no weaknesses, then your story of their struggles is not realistic. In fact, you don't have a story at all. Weaknesses make readers sympathize with your characters where a perfect character is only likely to inspire boredom. Even if your characters are deities, they must have some restrictions or readers will wonder why they didn't simply fix all the problems in your story with a wave of their hand. Do they have rules that absolutely cannot be broken? Or a problem with anger? Perhaps they are gullible or immature. Even Superman has his kryptonite. What could bring your character down?
What is the driving force behind your character's actions?
If Bruce Wayne's parents had not died in the way they did, Batman would never have been born. Little Bruce would have grown up from a pampered little rich boy into a pampered rich businessman and there would have been nothing about him worthy of writing so much about.
Did your character also have a troubled or tragic past that causes him to be overly protective - or overly surly? Or did she have a perfectly lovely childhood and that's why she's naive? Did she join the army at a young age where she learned to use all the weapons she needs to in your story?
You don't need to write an extensive biography for your character - unless you want it for yourself. But you should know why your character can and will do the things you are asking of her or him - and sprinkle enough detail into your story so that it makes sense to your reader, as well.
How does your character grow during the course of your story?
You have an exciting, plot-driven story! Who needs character growth? Well...you do. If your character is going to be going through major life-altering events, it's not realistic to think that those experiences wouldn't change them. Every experience a person has changes that person. Some times in big ways, other times in very small ways. How do the events in your book change your characters? Do they become more cynical or more open? Do they have more confidence in themselves or was their arrogance shaken? Life is not static. Your character shouldn't be, either.
What does your character sound like?
Presumably your story will have dialogue. So what does your character's speaking voice sound like? Does she have an accent? Does he have an education? Does she sprinkle three-dollar words into her speech or does he overuse the word 'like'? Is he arrogant and always commands instead of asking?
Each character should have an individual voice that should match their background, the circumstances, the scene. and your character's personality. Your Knight Commander might be arrogant and commanding when speaking to his troops, but respectful when he is speaking to his king. Perhaps he grew up with the king and is a childhood friend—he will have a different tone when speaking to the king as a friend than he has when he is speaking to the king as his ruler, while the king who grew up with him may sound similar in dialect and word choices, but will probably always have the arrogance of his position in his tone. The options for a character's voice are limitless, but deciding how your character sounds will improve your dialogue and the believably of your characters..
Answering the questions above will help to tie your character into your plot. Knowing those things about your character will help you determine how he will react to your plot points so that the responses are natural and expected. Your character will have a rounded personality with both good and bad points and you'll know how he got that way.
To add even more realism and truly bring your character to life, think a bit deeper. Little details of personality included throughout your story will also help to create realism. It moves your character from simply being "The Main Character" into someone your reader feels like they know.
- Does your character have a quirk? Maybe she twirls her hair when nervous or he beats up a gym bag when he's angry. Maybe she starts too many projects and doesn't finish them. Maybe he is obsessive about completing tasks. We all have our personality quirks. Give your character one also.
- What is one major mistake you could see your character making (even if it does not fit in the timeline of your plot)? Does he realize it was/would be a mistake? How your character handles a mistake tells a lot about her. Does she own up to it? Or try to avoid responsibility?
- What kind of music does your character like? As he rides to the final battle, what does he have playing on the radio?
- What was your character's relationship with his/her parents? Is she trying to live up to their belief in her? Or is he determined to prove that they were wrong about him?
- What was your character's childhood best friend like? Why were they friends? What happened to that friend?
There are many more questions that could be asked and answered, with each one making your character a little deeper and a little more realistic. Even though much of what you answer may never be explicitly included in your novel, the depth of knowledge about your character that they bring you will come through anyway and make your characters come alive on the page.