On Writing: Creating Realistic Characters without Watering Down the Conflict

I had an incredibly relaxing weekend and it was wonderfully unproductive—I mostly just read some books of the Shatter Me series. To be honest, I love Warner a super-unhealthy amount. I think it’s how dramatic it is—sometimes it’s fun to get lost in unnecessary, soap-opera levels of YA character drama and issues. :)

The most exciting part of this weekend was definitely hitting the 300-page mark on my book. I haven’t shared much about it, but I finished it in July, decided it was terrible, cut over one hundred pages, and now I’m here! I’m in the climax and it’s so incredible to see myself just go for it. I’ve written thirty pages in twenty-four hours, so that feels really good.

I think that part of my hesitation involving writing stems from a sort of fear that I’ll make it too unrealistic—yes, the characters have magic; yes, the villain is a super-powerful, unnervingly-calculating sociopath; yes, the world is very different from our worlds, but what if I make it a really unrealistic book? So unrealistic that people scoff and put it down and never think about it again? Wouldn’t that just defeat the purpose of writing an entire freakin’ novel?

I’ve always laughed at the characters that push themselves to their very limit until they crack and “break”—that is, there’s an emotional scene, and the character loses it to the point of insanity, and then this magic power stemming from their dark, unknown past suddenly erupts and everyone is in awe…

I make fun of it, but let’s be real: my character has several moments EXACTLY like that.

I want my characters to be a lot more dynamic than a powerful being with next to no personality and no favorite past time except to occasionally paint and defeat their foes and fall in love with bad boy number 1, who saves MC’s life in a necessary moment for their inevitably-doomed relationship to either flourish or fail.

I want my characters to be strong and brave and smart, but also vulnerable. They need to have interesting past times and quirky personality traits and some part of their character that allows for them to face what they’re facing without becoming incredibly, desperately cynical.

I want them, mostly, to maintain their humor and their emotions. I’ve read too many books where I get really down in the dumps afterwards because there’s no happiness in the character’s life.

I wrote this article to try to figure out how to incorporate happiness into my writing without having the antagonist or the issue be watered down, boring, or not threatening enough.

I often find that, in the novels I read, the writers attempt to combat the bloody violence and chaotic anxiety with small, peaceful moments (like a funny conversation or a dance) with the main character, supporting side characters, and love interests. I want my writing to be realistic, but I also want it to be exactly its genre: fiction, meaning that there are magic and slow-burning relationships, mighty wars, and valiant heroes.

So where do I draw the line between fiction and reality in my writing?

In real life, I stutter when I get excited, confused, or nervous, I obviously don’t have magic powers, and I’m significantly younger than the main character in my WIP.

In my writing, however, the main character (we’ll call her A.) speaks confidently, wields her magic as skillfully as a sword, and is old enough to be able to carry the burden of her mission without breaking down.

I always try to fold the unrealistic into the realistic—basically, adding magic and trials to a world that is already highly developed, as opposed to building the world around the magic. Some of my friends have the opposite problem. The balance can be very difficult to strike, but I think I’m almost there.

In my novel, I try to make sure to fuse moments of weakness into overall growth and development. The world might be ending, and A. might have just cried, but she’s going to wake up the next day and face it.

For me, that’s the most realistic I can make my writing: we all get up and face a new day; we can be happy, indifferent, or drag ourselves through the day, but we still get up and get it done.

Whenever I mention what I’m writing, I try so hard to downplay it. The problem is that it shouldn’t be downplayed. I’ve been working on it for a long time, trying to figure out the plotline and delve into the characters and create mood boards—all of which are great, but they aren’t my main focus (which is, of course, getting my book out there for all to see), meaning…

My book is important because when other people read it, it will affect them.

On the other hand, I don’t think I need to draw the line: sometimes an even in-between will suffice. One of my friends used the best example: in Finale, Tella and Dante are always dancing between serious scenes and intense flirting. Flirting helps them combat the anxiety they feel as the stakes of their game rises higher and higher.

I don’t think there’s one right way to figure this out because almost every writer that I’ve ever seen has their own way of creating their world. That’s the beauty of writing: I can do what I want with it!

Overall, I want my book to be realistic but light and calm. I know darkness and despair is fairly normalized in the YA literature world, and don’t get me wrong, my book definitely has rough patches and pain, but I also want my characters to be happy. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

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