How to Create a Realistic Fiction Character
One of the biggest challenges for any fiction writer is creating realistic, or believable,
characters. A good fiction character will make your reader care about what happens to the character
for 20, 50, or 200 pages. Often, a realistic character feels interesting and unique, but also
relatable and likeable. This is a tricky balance to achieve, but fiction writers have come
up with several approaches to creating characters that feel realistic and credible to the reader.
Using Basic Details and Physical Description
• Name your character. A big identifier of your character will be their name.
Think about people you know in real life who remind you of the character or who inspired the
character. You can also play on an existing name you feel fits with the character and change
the spelling. For example, Kris instead of Chris, or Tara instead of Tanya.
Look for names that fit with your character's background and don't seem odd in terms
of your character's role or position. A soccer mom who lives in suburban Portland and identifies
as Caucasian is likely not going to be named Esmeralda. And an evil sorcerer from another planet
will likely not be named Joe or Craig.
There are several character name generators online that you can also use, filtering by
background and gender:
The Character Name Generator,
Fantasy Name Generator, and
Random Name Generator.
• Note your character's gender, age, height, and weight. If your character
was to fill out a census or a form at a doctor's office, what would they specify for gender,
age, height, and weight? Though you may not use this character information in your story or
novel, your character's gender, and age will affect their character voice and their point of view.
For example, the young child character, Scout, in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
will view the world of the novel differently than her father, Atticus Finch, an older man.
• Describe your character's hair and eye color. It's important to specify
your character's physical characteristics, especially their hair and eye color. Often, description
of characters focuses on hair color or eye color, and these details can help signal to your
reader that your character has a certain ethnic background or appearance. These descriptions
can also indicate a certain type of character.
For example, describing your character's physical appearance as: "She had dishwater blonde
hair and gray eyes that glazed over when she was bored" not only gives your reader a clear
physical description, it also shows the character's personality.
• Create distinguishing markers or scars on your character. Harry Potter's
lightning bolt scar is a good example of a distinguishing marker that identifies his character
and makes him unique. You can also use birthmarks, like a mole on your character's face, or
a marker due to an accident, like a burn mark or a scar due to stitches. These scars or markers
can make your character feel distinct to your reader. They can also tell the reader more about
To Kill a Mockingbird,
Scout's brother Jem is characterized on the first page of the
novel through a description of his broken arm: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem
got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able
to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm
was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right
angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as
he could pass and punt."
Harper Lee uses the injury, or physical marker, to introduce Jem's character and tell
the reader that he has a shorter left arm, a distinguishing characteristic that makes him a
more nuanced and believable character.