One of the reasons I love having guest bloggers is that they can give you a new perspective on topics. I’m excited to have the guest blog today, “How to Write Realistic Characters” by Candice Yamnitz. Candice is new to “JPC Allen Writes”. I met her on Instagram and have been following her journey toward publication. Take it away, Candice!
Think of a character you adore. What makes that character feel real to you? There are many layers to this question in any story. I’m going to review the ones I find most important.
I’m a YA fantasy author whose debut novel, Unbetrothed, comes out February 2022 with Illuminate YA. I wrote it back in 2018. Rounding out my characters took about ten drafts. I’m hoping I can give you some insight, so you don’t have to go through so many drafts.
Give Your Hero a Lie to Believe
Every hero believes a lie. This isn’t just a matter of having an imperfection. Your character needs something ingrained into their thinking. It should be related to their goal or in contrast to their goal.
For instance, in Unbetrothed, Princess Beatriz wants a betrothal to her best friend. In order to do that, she needs a magical gifting. She believes that a person’s value is found in their magical gifting. If she didn’t believe this lie, why strive so hard to get a gifting? Yes, wanting to marry prince charming is a good enough desire to send a person on a crazy quest. But with the lie, my character has more motivation and a thought process I can use in all her interactions.
Give Your Character Quirks
In real life, I love love love quirky people. It’s so much fun to find out that a friend you’ve known for years has a strange way of eating a candy bar. Then there’s the friend who can’t stand certain textures or the one who has a squeaky laugh.
Give your characters fun little details. Consider giving your character a tick, a strange habit, and something they always do when they’re angry, nervous and happy. Plan these all out for your main set of characters and make the quirks distinct. Also, keep track of which character has which quirk by keeping a character journal. Please tell me I’m not the only one who forgets a character’s eye color twenty chapters into the novel.
Yes, you’re not alone. I also discovered that I’d given way too many characters brown eyes and had to go back and throw in some variety.
Build a Backstory
Backstory doesn’t belong in chapter 1 and needs to be sprinkled into the story. Even so, I recommend writing short stories about scenes in your characters lives before the story takes place. When I first wrote Unbetrothed, I just wrote the main story. The novel didn’t get more depths until I had written several prequel short stories.
I understood my characters more deeply. I knew and felt their wounds. I understood why certain characters behaved strangely. I could hear the hidden messages they sent in their dialogue. This doesn’t happen unless you get into your characters’ experience.
- Your main character’s deepest wound
- The start to the story if you were writing from the antagonist’s perspective
- The protagonist’s mentor’s story (ie. I wrote about Princess Beatriz’s mom.)
- The same story from another person’s perspective
- Your main character’s most treasured memory
A Note to the Adult YA Writer
When writing YA, you have to put yourself in the teen mindset if you’re not there. Go back to grappling with your identity and insecurities without adult experience. Emotions tend to be rawer and more pronounced.
I spent my college years, young adult years, and beyond mentoring in youth group. This haa given me insight in talking, emotional, social, and dating patterns in this age group. I love this age group because it’s where God reached me. Please consider spending time with teens if it’s not fresh in your mind. This will help you get the right voice, and you’ll know your audience.
Writing Sidenote: I am not a plotter. I write chapter 1, a page long synopsis, and then dig into writing my manuscripts. If you’re a planner, you might want to do all the backstory work beforehand. That’s not me. I tend to write draft 1 first. Everyone has their own process. I hope this helps you write more realistic YA characters. If you’d like clean teen book recommendations, book giveaways, and to learn about my writing journey, sign up for my newsletter here. I have some really exciting news coming up over the next few months. I can’t wait to share the cover, the exact release date, and the swag for my book.
Thanks for much for the great tips, Candice!
Blurb for Unbetrothed, coming February 2022. Candice drew these portraits of her main character Beatriz. Aren’t they gorgeous!!!!
Around Agatha Sea, princesses are poised, magically gifted and betrothed.
So, when seventeen-year-old Princess Beatriz still fails to secure a betrothal, her parents hold a ball. Forming an alliance could mean the difference between peace and war, but Beatriz doesn’t just want any suitor. She’s in love with her best friend, Prince Lux. Marrying Prince Lux will always be a silly dream as long as she has no magical gift.
Princess Beatriz will do whatever it takes to obtain a touch of magic, including make a deadly oath to go on a quest to Valle de Los Fantasmas. A valley where no one comes out alive.
If she can manage to succeed, Princess Beatriz could have everything she desires and secure peace for her kingdom. If she fails, she’ll lose not only her greatest dream, but her kingdom, and maybe even her own life.
Candice Pedraza Yamnitz fell in love with The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice in high school and hasn’t stopped reading since then. She taught in a bilingual elementary education classroom for years until she decided to stay-at-home, teaching a crew of imaginative children. So in between reading lessons and converting cardboard boxes into pirate ships, she writes YA novels with a Latin twist. She lives in her native Chicagoland.