Creating characters that look and behave in a realistic way is one of the major challenges a writer faces. The main problem is, not a surprise, the author is just one human being. There are the personal views, experience, fears, preferences … and this, sadly, very often results in generic characters that flood the author’s work without them realizing the new protagonist in the next novel is just the short-haired, taller version of the previous one. Maybe the color of the t-shirt changed as well. And yet, this does not stop the readers from realizing the striking resemblance.
The danger that lies here is obvious. Repetition is boring. The same characters bring predictability, predictability ruins the joy of reading and, ultimately, the author may lose the audience and reputation.
However, there are a few things you can do to avoid the upper mentioned.
Disagree with the characters
Each time when new characters are created, focus on their personalities and try to evaluate how much of your own beliefs and opinions are reflected on the paper/screen in front of you. If you find out you created another chess player with a tendency to pet each dog that gets close enough … Change that as quickly as possible.
Remember, stepping out from the comfort zone is not easy, but it pays off. The characters that force the author to think and explore different attitudes and environments are a challenge, yet, at the same time, it is a great opportunity to learn and get much better. Apart from getting your writing to the next level, an effort to put yourself into someone’s shoes may also enhance your own perception and empathy in real life. You can even find out you like that smoky brand of whisky you were never interested in. Or not.
Let your surrounding inspire you
The world is a bottomless well of inspiration. Even the smallest perceptions can provide valuable inspiration for a unique character feature and so, it is priceless to walk with eyes opened wide. Watch people around, listen to the different tones of voices, focus on facial expressions and moves. A man with an exceptional color of eyes may pass you. A child with prominent freckles can sit right in front of you.
Watch your family, friends, or colleagues closely. Each person has a set of personal quirks, be it a special move with an eyebrow, a specific sitting position, or a typical word repeated over and over. Each of your major characters should have something special and memorable as well.
You can even invest some time into browsing some fashion magazines or blogs to find out about different clothing styles, so your characters do not wear the same type of high boots, or comfy sweaters.
This is connected with the observation of the surrounding. No one is perfect. Each person has a number of flaws, often causing trouble in life. To bring realism into your story, do not be afraid to ruin the perfect facade of your characters. Look around and make a list of annoying habits and unpleasant character traits. There is no reason why your paladin could not pick his nose. Or your the venerable judge can actually enjoy listening to gossip.
You can use even lethal weapons and make your character pay dearly for being too arrogant as a habit. The character can get lost due to a belief in one’s superior sense of direction. Big cities can prove to be a jungle and a failed chase of a criminal or a loss of a child are things even the fictional people don’t like. An effort to please everyone can cost someone their dreams. A mother giving up too much for her children is a hot candidate for this position. Or, by contrast, An ambition can chase away other characters and that may have severe consequences for the character.
Read a lot
This should not be a surprise. Ask any successful author, they will tell you reading is one of the keys to good writing. Once again, you are only one person with limited experience and even observation of reality might not be enough. Different authors use different techniques to present the characters and you may learn quite a lot by focusing how much someone else allows their villain to be present in the story, how effective it is to let the funny character appear just a few times in a novel so the bubbly, well-composed personality really strikes the reader ….
Of course, there are differences in quality. While reading, try to notice also the poorly handled topics, or lack of research. Also, try to read reviews and learn. This can help you avoid writing cliche nonsense about IT specialists, for example.
It always pays off to dive into different genres. Writers with experience from the military can provide a great inspiration when you decide to introduce soldiers in your story. Biographies of people with dramatic lives, like war refugees, scientists, or travelers show various life situations in a realistic light. And thus, you may avoid claiming it is possible to march through a plane of frozen snow with ease.
Even the use of different points of view is a very useful tool. You can observe “in action” and you can learn. If you don’t feel capable of presenting a realistic view of a wicked, deeply religious, or handicapped character it is always safer not to show the story through their eyes. If problematic characters play a major part in your story, be sure to get at least one sensitivity reader to avoid misconceptions. This is especially useful when trying to portray a character whose life is ruled by some illness like diabetes, or severe allergy and the author has no experience with such limiting states.