Characters are people, just like you and me. I love them. They make or break a book and frankly if you didn’t have a character that was memorable, then your book is almost worthless. This is also one of my all tie favourite topics. I’m going to give you 3 tools to help you make your characters more believable in your writing.
I can count on my hand the number of characters I can remember and they in turn have made me love books. They make me keep reading on in hopes that a really great series that plateaued and got crappy, straightens itself out a brings itself out of the darkness. Great characters make me gasp, cry and growl when something happens to them. They give me heart aches and have my nose buried in a book to find out what happens. They make you forget about the words, the grammar and even the pages, they pull you in and put a sink right in your mouth so that you can stay along for their journey. This is no more truer than sitting down and devouring six books in five days because the characters were so real, so right there that I needed to see what happened to them all over again.
So how do you get there? I’m glad that you asked. There are three main ways to get your characters more believable. Characters need to have human complexities, contrasting traits and consistency. I’m going to break those down for you. If you really want more info, check out Gotham Writers’ Worksop Writing Fiction: A Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. It’s really a great resource and one I can’t say enough good things about.
This is by far one of the most important and one of the hardest things to get right, but it’s because of this that we’re more inclined to root for a character. Right now, back away from the cliché that is a character, the girl next door, the kind and gentle grandmother, the loving and supportive husband. We don’t want to see that, we don’t even want to hear about it. Do you have that? Great. Now take a girl who is insecure but kind and give her high pitched voice, make her 17, give her a tragic backstory and make it feel like she is more than a few words, more than a cardboard cutout or fairy princess. Characters need to have flaws that are believable to make them believable. Think about it, would you want to read about someone who was perfect and flawless? Yeah me neither.
A character needs to have contrasting trait that are subtle. They help bring characters to life. Instead of have a superstar battling cancer in the eyes of the public, have a superstar who is conflicted about hitting a woman with their car and not reporting it. Give them something to grasp onto that is real. People get scared of things all the time and while some things are wrong, characters will do it just as people do. And if you remember that you’ll be able to build a three dimensional character that lives and breathes the same air you do.
Characters shouldn’t snap from one extreme to the other. Doing the old Jekyll and Hyde trick won’t work because it will prove that your character is unreliable and unpredictable. Although I did say that characters shouldn’t be predictable so it’s a little but of contradiction but that is what life is about. How to show that? Well if you have a character who loves horses and randomly you have them showing up a horse track for no reason, this will seem out of character with no warning. Pad it up a little, have your character wear a horse charm, or have a horse painting around their home. It will then make sense when people see your character at the horse tracks or even buying a horse.
Some of these seem like they’re common sense but I feel that sometimes you need to see these in print to really get it when you’re trying to make a character real. I have so many characters that I love and without having met them I don’t think life would be so colourful.
Do you have some favourite characters? Tell me about them, where are they from? Leave me a list of three and I’ll share three of mine! (I know it’s going to be hard, but so worth it!)