Creating realistic characters for me is like method acting. That may be a bit overstated. Method actors strive to inhabit the psyche of the character they are playing so deeply they may come to believe they are that person for extended periods of time. I don’t carry it that far, but sometimes I find some part of myself, some aspect of my personality, in a character and build on that trait so it is dominant in my character. One trait that I possess in some minor way comes to embody the particular character. Sometimes I discover that has happened after I have written a scene. That is, sometimes the whole experience for me is unconscious and only realized after the fact.
At other times though, it is deliberate. For example, I’ll notice I have a character who is self-centered and angry. Then I’ll search for that aspect of my own personality and write my own emotions and behavior into the character. I am not alone in this approach. Other writers have actually called it “Method Writing.” The term seems to have a slightly different meaning than my version. It is used to describe immersing oneself as much as possible in the experience and behavior of a fictional character. So for example, if your protagonist is a boxer, you as the writer, might actually take up boxing, the idea being you will more realistically portray your boxer character. That seems a bit much and not quite what I mean.
Simply put, I often ascribe different parts of my own personality to my characters. In my current book project, Empty Luck, there are five important male characters, all in their late 20s or early 30s. They are different from one another – one is quite hedonistic, a second is careful and intellectual, a third, a selfish sociopath, while another is very attuned to rules and authority, and the fifth has an addictive personality. All, for better or worse, are reflective of components of my makeup, of aspects of my own personality. The traits of the characters are then exaggerated to various degrees to make each distinctive and hopefully still believable. And that believability, that realism, is enhanced by finding some aspect of each character in some small way, in my own personality.