How to Build Relatable Characters | Storytelling 101
The following chapter is from the Art & Science of Storytelling Book
Building relatable characters comes down to being a great observer.
I want you to picture a dragon with social anxiety.
This may seem comical, until in your mind, you picture this dragon.
I’m picturing a green dragon who is fidgety with his movements. Even though he is a fire breathing dragon who should have the utmost confidence, you can tell from his jittery movements that he doesn’t have self-esteem.
What does this imply?
It implies that when we are assessing relatable characters, we are assessing human experiences & emotions first.
I know damn well a dragon cannot exist.
Especially one with social anxiety.
But when I combine a mythical animal with real human emotions, that’s when the mythical animal becomes real.
You can do that with virtually any character out there.
The best part?
Inspiration is all around you.
Literally, it’s all around you.
You should think about the characters in your life who are out-of-world personalities. Out-of-world personalities do not always imply something good. A lot of times, it implies something bad.
I know this guy who I’ll call TJ.
TJ is one of the most socially intelligent people I have ever met.
He can get along with people with ease.
He’ll build inside jokes with others, hype them up and tell stories with no difficulty.
TJ has a lot of friends and a lot of acquaintances.
TJ’s only problem?
He is a snake.
This man uses his charm to extract information from others and often uses it against them.
More specifically, he’ll get information from his guy friends and gossip to his girl friends about it.
Despite him backstabbing so many people, others continue to give him a chance because he is such a great listener.
Why would people give someone who backstabbed them another chance?
Do these people want to be heard that bad?
Yes, they do.
TJ teaches a few lessons about real human experience:
- A lot of socially intelligent people are sinister.
- Beware of who you vent to.
- Making someone feel heard is a superpower.
By the way, this is a real-world character who I know.
All I did was switch up his name for plausible deniability.
If the real person came up to me and was like:
‘Armani, are you talking about me when you say TJ?’
I can easily be like:
‘Of course not! I’m talking about TJ. He is completely made up.’
The cheatcode to building relatable characters is looking at the characters in your own life and slapping different names on these individuals.
Remember, we are telling stories that are congruent to us.
View yourself as the builder of Lego buildings.
When we take fragments of other people’s personalities and combine our personalities, we build something entirely new!
The character of TJ had the snake moves.
But did I mention that he used to be fat?
When he was fat, he was socially awkward. Him being socially awkward allowed him to learn the nuances of social intelligence that a lifelong popular kid would never understand.
What does this do?
Well, that made him more lethal in social skills.
The real-life version of TJ was always in shape. However, I added a different dimension of him being fat to give him more uniqueness. This is optional by the way.
What I’m trying to stress is that building relatable characters can be pretty fun. A lot of times, it can serve as a venting session. You are finally putting words to things you have noticed.
Relatable characters who you know are eerily similar to relatable characters in the most fantastic of tales…
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