Five ways to make your character real

The most hyperreal character I created till now is Anantya Tantrist, the tantrik detective and the heroine of my latest, Cult of Chaos. She has made me schizophrenic. I know her voice so well, that I can hear her talk in my head, can tweet as her and myself at the same time, having conversations over Twitter or tell you what she would be saying right now for this blog (“Why’re you wasting your time? Do something creative.”). When I was still pitching her book, I met A, the editor, the HarperCollins editor of the series in India and told her that she had to say yes to the book, because Anantya liked her. And I wasn’t lying. It was the truth. She’s that real to me. Like a friend. So here, I share what I’ve learnt while creating her. Here’s my bits on how to create characters that are crazy real.

1 Take her out on a date

You want to know what the biggest antihero of your book thinks like. What does he want? Why does he want to destroy the world? Does he like coffee or prefer tea? Is he an alcoholic? Meeting a character is like meeting a stranger on a date. Ask them inane questions. Do they like chocolate or strawberry icecream? You have to ask them what they are like, what they want from their lives, what they desire, what they feel about traffic jams, what their objective in life is. Spend a day, talking to your character, even the minor one. Romance her, fall in love, or hate her like you would the guy who persistently honks behind you in a stuck traffic jam.

2 Find out how she speaks

Readers love dialogues. Many of us while reading a book skip all the details, the paragraphs that talk about atmosphere and stuff and go to the dialogues. Dialogues are by far the most important way that readers will know your characters from. So it’s very important to know how your character speaks. Hear. Listen to what people say, how they say it. Everyone of us has a style of speech. Try and bring that out for your character. What are the words she uses the maximum? The repetitive things she says after each sentence? You want to make it real, yes, but not so real that it has repeated sentences. So keep it short.

3 Know the emotional ticks

After the date, this is the second level of knowing your character. What are the social issues they connect to the most? What makes them raving mad, or crazy? What brings tears to their eyes? For even the vilest of villains would have that soft spot somewhere. Find out what makes them sad, what’s their emotional curve. Know it when you’re writing and your readers will feel it too.

4 Put in her past experiences

I call this the soul of the character. As we grow, we absorb experiences each day and you need to know what your character’s past was to understand how they will behave now. What has happened to them in their past? Who were the people they grew up with? Like 90s soap operas, physical abuse, the desire to own a car or bullying a classmate or a pet. These experiences make the person we become and if you know the character’s past, you will know how they will react to situations, when and how they will act and take the story forward. To know your characters is to know your story too.

5 Listen to her body, beyond the face.

Body language is a very important aspect in detailing a character. Whether you write first-person narrative or third, you have to know how the character blink their eyes when they talk, how they smile, what changes in their body language when certain people are around. Find words for them, keep them listed somewhere. How our eyes look when we speak, how do our legs and hands move. Is her hair disheveled or clean, how does she smell? What are her most prominent features? How does she move her hands and arms and legs when she speaks? Build your vocabulary about the character and you’ll be able to bring her out in flesh and blood through words.

The Kejriwal character

Since the name Kejriwal might get this blog banned without reason, let me start by saying this post is not about politics. It is about imagination.

As an exercise to improve the characters I write about, I have been looking at various people when walking on the road, or in news and creating their stories. See that old woman, in khaki? She just condoled someone who heard about a death in her family. See that little boy with her granny? He hates how the granny calls him by his nickname and he doesn’t like his granny’s spidery, wrinkled hands when she feeds him. In my stories, these people flower (or wither) so to say, becoming something more dramatic, sometimes sinister, sometimes vulnerable. it’s like a flash of an idea, a storyline attached to a face and I encourage it.




I got a flash of a character when I saw Arvind Kejriwal’s interview in one of the media channels (weren’t all of them interviewing him?). It’s not the real him of course, just a figment of my imagination. So hear it out.

Kejriwal is a puppeteer of people. He gets hold of strings which can suffocate those who are corrupt, and then uses those strings to make them jump to his calls or crash down. He enjoys it, just like a cat enjoys playing with mice. Hit with one claw, wait and smile. His smile is not open, but a simple stretch of lips, as if he’s amused by a hen ruffling her feathers (in this case, Karan Thapar was the hen who was interviewing him). The opposite doesn’t matter, it has to crumble in front of the power that the character exudes. Some call him an anarchist. Maybe he’s one. The character certainly looks like he wants feathers and skin ruffled.

As he cuts a wire in a middle class household, Kejriwal’s eyes shine with a strange kind of light – you might think it’s the light of righteousness, of conviction that he’s leading the society to a better place. There’s a Pied Piper in him, who will happily play a tune, hypnotise the masses and lead them, well anywhere. And every sheep will follow.

He has the charisma of a leader and he has the self-righteousness. Most of the parties are peeing in their pants looking at him right now and shivering as they wonder what will pop out next from his kittybag—will it be their corrupt name or their son-in-law’s? His power is unexpected and he knows it. His power is not of honesty, it is a power over people who feel dishonest. He’s the one-eyed king in a nation of blind men. He knows it. He will keep his feet on the table and tell you that he knows it and will see you sweat. All the while smiling that closed-lip smile. Can you trust him? I don’t know that yet.

That’s Kejriwal the character who will figure in one of my stories some day. I wonder how similar it is to Arvind Kejriwal the man. What do you think?