Why Characters Should Never be “Real”

“Real” is in quotes because, well, it’s not the schizophrenic sense where the person genuinely can’t differentiate, it’s…. I’m blithering. Let’s go with an example instead, in conveniently exaggerated punctuation.

“I totally didn’t write this story! It’s just writing itself!! Ha, look at those rascally characters, I never know what they’ll do next! Oooh, my characters won’t let me take it in this direction!…etc.”

I have a special face for when I hear this sort of thing.

I call it the ‘uh, what.’ face because, well, that’s what it is. Obviously, I’m too polite to do it to anyone’s face (the Internet negates all standard definitions of rudeness), but I think it.

Why, you ask?


Writing is hard. Writing well and writing a complete story–even just 1500 words–is hard. So why, oh why, would you want to give all the credit to some part of your mind that’s managed to detach itself and works independently from the thinky bits? It’s like that ‘Muse’ attribution people do sometimes–yes, it does feel like the ideas pop out of nowhere. I’ll admit that to myself, but quite frankly with a little work you can always trace the source. There might be a thousand of them and some of them you might not have seen in years, but there’s always an origin. And if you know what it is, you can use it for more ideas–instead of waiting passively for whatever neurons to fire off ideas for your conscious mind.


But what about writing realistic characters?

Okay, the one criticism I’ve never gotten is that my characters are too one-dimensional. As mentioned, I absolutely don’t do the ‘theeey’re real!’ thing, so clearly it’s not necessary to see things this way.

Writing convincing characters has nothing to do with believing in them. It has everything to do with literary devices and knowing when to use, and when not to use, words. (Just because someone’s always smirking doesn’t mean you should write that into the text. No one wants to see lines and lines of dialogue that end with “, he smirked.”)

Also, I see people more often clouded than not by their belief in characters. Not being able to kill off someone even though having them survive makes no sense (cough, cough, Rowling); wasting too much time on someone who doesn’t even have that much of a role; going into in-depth descriptions and little side scenes when they serve no purpose….


You’re better off being realistic. Give yourself a little credit for a job well done, hey?


2 thoughts on “Why Characters Should Never be “Real”

  1. What about both? The characters (and story) have an ‘aliveness/reality’ of their own – isn’t that just another way of expressing the nature of creativity, the way ideas pop into your head – but you as the writer make the decisions, you make them emerge in 3D and use your literary craft to write them well.

    I enjoyed reading the begining of your book, but suggest a larger gap between the dream and the waking, to avoid confusion.

    If you’re interested in my work,(okay, why would you be? But you never know) take a look at ch1 of ‘Lethal Inheritance’ (YA fantasy) at

    • That’s acceptable. It’s the extremes I don’t like as much…and yes there will be more on this later 😀

      Thanks! I’ve actually already rewritten the opening: I haven’t updated that site in a long time. And yes, I will take a look at it! But…not for a little while (turns out jobs are time-consuming. Who knew?!).

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