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The Devil Is in the Details

I’m sure we all know this phrase, and many writers and screenwriters talk about small details that distinguish characters from one another and make them unique, one of a kind, memorable and most importantly, authentic.

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Giving the characters small details will make them come to life. The characters that have minor quirks are automatically much more intriguing for the audience. However, make sure that whatever quirks you assign to your characters will help them fall into the story (obstacles, difficulties, enemies) in a more organic and natural way (so it doesn’t feel forced for the audience).

While creating our characters, we must give them the breath of life, to do so we shouldn’t be afraid of granting the characters eccentricity, twist the plot, or send them on an impossible journey. Those can only help the characters to stand out from the screen/pages.

Try to imagine your character as a person, a real person. I know that the concept of creating a backstory might be tiring for many, but knowing everything you possibly can about your characters will help you make them more genuine and life-like.

The sample questions below will help you kickstart the backstory or a bible for your character:

  • Where does your character live?
  • What does your character do for a living?
  • Does your hero have a family, partner, is single or scared of commitment?
  • What is your character afraid of?
  • What does your character want from life/in life?
  • What did they want to do when they were growing up?
  • What drives them?
  • Is your character ambitious?
  • What holds your character back from fully living the life they wanted?
  • What is their relationship with their parents?

The list can go on and on. But you know the gist. You don’t need to know everything at once. Most of the character’s back story will unfold while writing. But for that to happen, you have to start somewhere and somehow.

Another essential thing to remember is that the characters should have flaws. Those could be expressed through details simultaneously while life happens (the hero becomes crazy aggressive while stuck in traffic, doesn’t venture outside of local area/town because of the fear of crime/people, etc). The human flaws will give your characters the authenticity we all long for in characters and stories.

If you have difficulties coming up with details or flaws, quirks, or strangeness, just look around to see what you could recycle from people you already know (i.e. he gets very nasty and unpleasant when work gets stressful; when she is tired, she is very withdrawn and focuses on getting through the day; she is responsible for organising everything technical at work when she is not in, the work crumbles, etc).

Don’t forget that self-contradictions are also very good and useful tools to shape real-life characters. For instance, a vegan blogger can secretly dream of eating meat or eat meat, a person who wants to travel and knows a lot about travelling the world has never left their local community, she wants to have lots of money and retire early but at the same time is spending everything she earns.

Again, look around and see how people you know self-contradict themselves and see what you could use to build your characters.

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