How to Create Realistic and Interesting Characters for Your Stories


Imagine you are your character. I will be Li, a 25(ish) year-old woman, currently living in Wolverhampton, England.

Creating this base for your character is important. She has a name, age, and general setting. These are the three first things to base everything else about your character and your story on.

The character’s name gives them a backstory – where does the name come from? This particular name is of Chinese origin so perhaps the character is too, or at least their family might be.

Li is 25 – at this age, many people are still finding their place in the world. Most have finished education and worked in the odd part-time job if nothing permanent has come up sooner. I have decided that Li used to work as a Customer Assistant at a local corner shop but now wants to be a teacher so they are applying for teacher training.

The setting is important for the character too – they need somewhere to relate with. I picked a relatively busy city so that there is a lot to do. Many of her school friends probably still live there, her family too. There is a university there and schools she can teach in eventually if she wants. There are a multitude of options.

Now to move on from the basics. For there to be a story, a character-led story, there needs to be something Li wants; what is her motivation? Well, she wants to be a teacher. Maybe she wants this in order to teach something she loves, such as art or music, or science. I’m going with music – she wants to inspire kids at school with music the way she was at school.

To make the story interesting there needs to be some sort of conflict – are there any obstacles to her end goal? Maybe she was arrested as a teenager so will struggle to get a job as a teacher, or perhaps the conflict is internal. To keep the example simple, I’m going to make it so Li struggles with depression and anxiety. She fears new things, the unknown. Going into a new environment can create a lot of anxiety – perhaps something happens when training to be a teacher that causes her anxiety to flare up and become unmanageable.

Whatever you decide the obstacle is, there needs to be some sort of resolution. You could make the story depressing and have it that Li quits her training and goes back to the corner shop for the rest of her life. Or you could inspire hope in the reader and have Li manage and control her anxiety, and continue her training and inspire her pupils through music and her story.

With any character, just think about what they might want (their motivation), what they are willing to do to achieve their ambitions, and what happens when they try. If you are just starting out with character development then this is a good place to begin.

3 comments on “How to Create Realistic and Interesting Characters for Your Stories”

  1. What is your view on market research and social justice influence on character building? What I mean is, do you find it hard to create a character knowing that an imaginary quota must be filled due to not going through a public outcry.

    1. No, not at all. I create my characters with nothing in mind but the story and how they will react within it. The identity of the character is never a problem. If my main character was a gay, black woman, that would have nothing to do with “quotas” or appealing to anyone – it is the way she would react to conflict and develop as a character through the story that is important. So no, I don’t struggle at all with what you are suggesting: all of my stories include a diverse cast of characters because that is what the world really looks like and it makes it far more interesting and realistic to tell a story with diversity.

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