When you create a character in your works, the depth of that character is entirely up to you, the writer. Every speck of information the reader has about the character is brought to it by your words. Even implied information is implied by other words you write or facts you bring up. It all falls down to you and this is nothing new. It is, however, important to bring back up again as we move onto to today’s topic: how character details can inform us about the ‘realism’ of your fictional world and how they should also be restrained by that.
What do I mean by putting realism in those little finger-quote things? Well, the fact is that, in fiction, reality is mutable. Things do not have to work they way they do on our little planet Earth. However, for any aspect of your fictional world that is different from our own, you need to make sure the reader understands it to be so in a timely manner. You can use details that expand characterization to also inform us about the rules of your fictional world in one go.
It’s a pretty simple technique to show in example. If your protagonist has, say, magical abilities, you have a perfect chance to talk about the existence and rules of magic in your world while also providing us important information about the character him/herself. You can apply this to many aspects of a character, from occupation to supernatural abilities to alien races. Anytime you can streamline exposition, you can make room for more actual story and conflict. This is a Good Thing ™!
At the same time, though, you should create character details that conform to our own understood reality, if there are no changes to it created by your setting. Just as we need to inform the reader about any changes have been made to the rules of the fictional world, we must assume that anything we have *not* changed will be assumed by the reader to conform to the real world they know. That forms its own set of restrictions and guidelines on how you create your characters that combines with the rules you have put into place for the fictional rules of the world.
Here it comes down to our old friend research to show the way. If you provide realistic details to flesh out your characters, you will make your readers more comfortable and help expand the limits of their ability to believe the more fantastic elements of your tale. You can balance fantasy with reality and form a cohesive whole that keeps your audience’s suspension of disbelief in check.
Now that doesn’t mean you *can’t* go all out, over the top, and just be crazy. Just make sure you establish from the start that is how your world works! In addition, you need to keep your audience in consideration. Some genres and subgenres have inherent levels of fantasy and separation from reality baked into it, giving you more freedom to test the limits.
Whatever the genre and whatever your limits, simply remember that you can use the way you describe and flesh out your characters to not only establish the rules of reality for your world, but help enforce the limits of that reality. You get great characters and a well-formed world in one step!
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!