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How Do You Make Characters Feel Like Regular People?

Your protagonists, as well as their compatriots, seem like normal people one might easily meet in real life–relatable, sympathetic, and yet unique. What thought process do you use when creating a protagonist?

I had real trouble with my characters feeling real early in my writing career (before I got published).  It took a long time to get my head around it, and I don’t know if there was one “key” breakthrough.  One leap forward was learning that while I could outline my plots heavily, I had to give the characters autonomy to grow and develop in ways that might be contrary with what I had planned.  And in that case, I’d need to rebuild my story to match who they had become.

Another was the realization that I was stuffing characters into boxes based on their roles.  Nobody in real life is only one person, or fills only one role.  In fact, we’re all the heroes of our own stories, even if what we do heroically much of the time is support other people.  I had to start asking myself what each and every character was passionate about other than the plot.  What would they do with their life if they could do anything, and where would that have taken them if the story hadn’t interrupted?

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