The question I get the most is how I write characters that feel like real people.
Generally when I’m designing a human being, I deconstruct them into 7 major categories:
1. Primary Drive 2. Fear: Major and Secondary 3. Physical Desires 4. Style of self expression 5. How they express affection 6. What controls them (what they are weak for) 7. What part of them will change.
1. Primary Drive: This is generally related to the plot. What are their plot related goals? How are they pulling the plot forward? how do they make decisions? What do they think they’re doing and how do they justify doing it.
2. Fear: First, what is their deep fear? Abandonment? being consumed by power? etc. Second: tiny fears. Spiders. someone licking their neck. Small things that bother them. At least 4.
3. Physical desires. How they feel about touch. What is their perceived sexual/romantic orientation. Do their physical desires match up with their psychological desires.
4. Style of self expression: How they talk. Are they shy? Do they like to joke around and if so, how? Are they anxious or confident internally and how do they express that externally. What do words mean to them? More or less than actions? Does their socioeconomic background affect the way they present themselves socially?
How they express affection: Do they express affection through actions or words. Is expressing affection easy for them or not. How quickly do they open up to someone they like. Does their affection match up with their physical desires. how does the way they show their friends that they love them differ from how they show a potential love interest that they love them. is affection something they struggle with?
6. What controls them (what they are weak for): what are they almost entirely helpless against. What is something that influences them regardless of their own moral code. What– if driven to the end of the wire— would they reject sacrificing. What/who would they cut off their own finger for. What would they kill for, if pushed. What makes them want to curl up and never go outside again from pain. What makes them sink to their knees from weakness or relief. What would make them weep tears of joy regardless where they were and who they were in front of.
7. WHAT PART OF THEM WILL CHANGE: people develop over time. At least two of the above six categories will be altered by the storyline–either to an extreme or whittled down to nothing. When a person experiences trauma, their primary fear may change, or how they express affection may change, etc. By the time your book is over, they should have developed. And its important to decide which parts of them will be the ones that slowly get altered so you can work on monitoring it as you write. making it congruent with the plot instead of just a reaction to the plot.
But most of all, you have to treat this like you’re developing a human being. Not a “character” a living breathing person. When you talk, you use their voice. If you want them to say something and it doesn’t seem like (based on the seven characteristics above) that they would say it, what would they say instead?
If they must do something that’s forced by the plot, that they wouldn’t do based on their seven options, they can still do the thing, but how would they feel internally about doing it?
How do their seven characteristics meet/ meld with someone else’s seven and how will they change each other?
Once you can come up with all the answers to all of these questions, you begin to know your character like you’d know one of your friends. When you can place them in any AU and know how they would react.
On the topic of humans being space oddities bc that’s kind of been my most recent obsession… what if curiosity is a uniquely human thing???
let’s say aliens are real and we meet them and they just do not for the life of them understand why we do half the shit we do because they don’t understand curiosity
Because come on like other alien posts here have said humans are fucking wild we literally build spaceships and rocket ourselves to other planets before we even have the proper technology to do so just because we’re curious to see if there’s life on other planets
When we get up there into space and meet the aliens I can just see them being all like “oh yeah we discovered space travel out of necessity… our planet was going to be absorbed by a nearby supernova so we had to get out of there. How did you humans get to space?”
“Oh… we just… wanted to?? Space seemed cool. We were curious.”
And the aliens are AGHAST because why the fuck would we launch ourselves into a dark endless void out of sheer curiosity rather than necessity??? Especially when life on earth isn’t imminently in danger (not yet anyway, but that’s another post). So many failed attempts and so many struggles – literally half of the scientific world telling us that space travel isn’t possible – and yet we go and do it anyway because we were curious??? Our world was fine we had no reason to leave we just *wanted* to and that’s such a foreign concept to our alien friends
Like imagine one day a crew compromised of a group of aliens and one human are exploring unknown terrain and they approach a very dark, foreboding cave. The crew really doesn’t need to go in it, so they plan on just passing by to avoid it, but the human stops them
“Wait hold on guys, I wanna see what’s in there. I’ll be right out,” human Lena says before plunging into darkness
And the aliens ARE FREAKING YHE FUCK OUT because why would their human do that???? Is she secretly dying and she needs to find the cure in the cave?! Is there some kind of hidden secret in there that needs to be discovered for the sake of humanity??? She’s putting her life in danger!!
And human Lena walks out completely unscathed to find the rest of her crew in a total frenzy
“HUMAN LENA WHY DID YOU DO THAT DID YOU NEED TO TAKE A SAMPLE FROM THE CAVE WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU ENDANGERED YOUR LIFE”
And human Lena just stares at them confused and says “oh no I was… just curious. Wanted to see if there was anything cool down there.”
“YOU PUT YOURSELF IN DANGER TO FIND SOMETHING ‘COOL’?!?!”
“Yeah man, and it was totally worth it. Here, I found some neat glowing rocks, take one. Oh and also this little fuzzy thing here is my friend now. I found him down there and he reminded me of my dog back at home”
One alien promptly faints because he cannot control this fucking human who brings potentially dangerous animals with her to keep as a pet
Ahh ok but like what if that’s humanity’s “superpower” like our curiosity is the one thing that has kept us going for so long because it’s what spurs so many of our innovations and discoveries
And eventually all alien crews catch on and all want a human on their crew not just for their ability to survive extreme weather conditions but also because their curiosity often helps the aliens make vital discoveries. All a human has to do is see something and think “gee I wonder what this does” or “if I combine this two things, what will happen?” and bam new amazing life-changing discovery
Of course it also leads to a lot of explosions and trips to the infirmary, but humans are resilient, so everyone is sure we’ll be fine
Ten days ago I missed you.
I cried and cried and prayed you’d call me.
I told myself I’d never be happy without you.
Five days ago you called.
You got mad for no reason and reminded me of all of the reasons we didn’t work.
You stomped my broken heart into the dust and then told me we’re friends again.
Today I can’t stand you.
You’re on my mind so much for all the bad reasons.
I can’t stand anything you do, the things I use to think were cute and quirky are just plain annoying now.
Everytime I run into you I resist the urge to lash out at you and tell you how annoying you are and how i’m so much better without you.
But if I hate you so much,
Why are you still on my mind?
lance’s frustration with not being listened to in the last episode of season 4 is not casual and it’s something he’s been holding in for a long time. he’s starting to realize something’s wrong with shiro and he’s gonna be the one to figure out he’s fake and then he’s gonna immediately alert keith and they’re gonna have an heartfelt moment where he’ll convince keith to come back thanks for coming to my ted talk
“Is Bruce in here?” Tim figured he might be— Bruce spent a lot of time in the children’s wing of Wayne Enterprises. There were a dozen or so kids in daycare most weekdays, and Bruce liked to hang out.
Tim liked to hang out too. They had nice snacks, and he’d known most of the kids since they were toddlers. And sometimes naps were mandatory.
“Conference call,” Damian told him. (For someone who claimed to hate naps, snackfood, kids, and humanity in general, Damian also spent a lot of time in the children’s wing.) “I don’t know where.”
He went back to what he was doing, which was arranging a set of pewter soldiers into a complex model of a battlefield, presumably for the benefit of the preschooler sitting next to him.
“The Battle of Issus, 333 BC.”
“Right, obviously.” Tim decided he was curious, so he settled down on the mats to watch. Damian finished his model; he pulled a marker from the art table and used it as a pointer.
“Okay. This is the Macedonian army, outnumbered but in the better tactical position, south of the Pinarus River. Their leader is Alexander the Great. And this—” He pointed to his enemy line. “—is the Achaemenid Empire. They’re about to lose.”
Damian tapped his marker on the Macedonian right. “This is the companion calvary, Alexander’s elite force, and they—” he cut off when he noticed his pupil digging in the toy bin, clearly distracted. The kid came up with a battered Transformer, which he set behind Damian’s lines.
“Elliot. Alexander did not have robots.”
“But,” said Tim, rummaging through the box himself, “did he have wizards?” He pulled a bearded magician out of the tub and held it up for Damian to see.
“You know he didn’t.”
Tim passed the wizard to Elliot. “But what if he did?”
“How would that go?”
“Abracadabra, Alexander!” Elliot yelled, gleefully smashing through Damian’s entire left flank.
“Damn it, Drake.” Damian sighed in frustration— not quite the rise Tim was hoping for, but still something. He dropped Elliot’s discarded robot back into the box.
“I don’t know what you were expecting,” Tim told him. “Elliot’s four. He’s too young for— what is this— military history?”
“He was doing fine before you showed up.” Damian started to re-erect his soldiers, but he gave it up after Elliot came in for a second pass. “Which is typical, isn’t it?”
“Thank you.” Damian crossed his arms. “Fine. I’ll bite. When is he supposed to learn this kind of thing?”
“High school? Maybe never.”
“That can’t be right.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“Frequently.” Damian rolled his eyes. “I’m getting a second opinion.”
Damian checked the room for potential allies. “Thomas?” he called over his shoulder, “You learned military strategy as a kid, right?”
Duke looked up from the book he was reading to a pair of kindergardeners. “Just you, man.”
“Told you.” Tim fished a bag of plastic ninja from the toy box and arranged them pointedly into a row. “How are you still surprised by this kind of thing?”
Damian glared at him. “Okay, first of all? I’m not a— hold on a second. Elliot!”
Elliot froze with a large, plastic dinosaur held aloft over the battlefield. He drew it sheepishly back to his chest. “Sorry.”
“Not in the calvary wing,” Damian told him. “You’ll scare the horses.”
“Here?” Elliot pointed to the front of the phalanx.
“Aim for his center.” Damian turned back to Tim. “Anyway. Why are you still talking to me? I thought we had an agreement about unnecessary contact.”