Emily Kinney – Finding Your Voice: Writing in First Person @theshadylady

Posted on Saturday, February 8, 2014

How to Make Your Characters Believable

Characters are, disputably, the life and breath of any story. Unless, of course, you are purposely wasting paper just to describe things, such as an era or certain scenery. However, these in no way can be considered stories, for stories, as most will stubbornly agree, must be about something. Preferably, beings who think, feel, and live in the harsh environment known as the world, or even other worlds. In stories, there is what happens, and then there are those whom it happens to. The most effective way to connect with readers is when they can relate to the person, or animal, robot, what have you, the story centers upon.

Making characters believable is a constant plight for writers. Usually, the easiest tactic to employ is to model the character’s personality after someone they’ve met or know in real life, so that there is a credible reference out in reality. This has been done countless times, and tends to result in character favorites among readers. Characters based on real people always seem to leave an indelible mark, mainly because their realness radiates so strongly.

However, what if you create a character out of pure, thin air, with nary an existing relation or acquaintance to mold him or her after? What does a writer do then? The obvious would be to take cues from real-life examples. For instance, how would a regular person react to discovering a seven talon claw sticking out of the bedroom wall? In this day and age, where people are both reasonable and stupid, it could all boil down to the specific personality of the person. A reasonable person might run away, issuing squeals of terror, while a stupid person would unavoidably approach the claw because it looked cool.

But the initial reaction of the reader would be to think, “What’s this dude’s problem? Get away from there, you dolt!” It could easily turn into a case of the reader thinking that the author made the character choose to do that in order to create conflict. And while, yes, stories are driven by conflict, and therefore will never be fully realistic, since there aren’t too many adventures occurring on a day to day basis in the world, readers still relate to characters who handle the conflict in a way that they might themselves.

By giving your characters all the elements of a real person, such as fears, doubts, confusion, emotions, bodily reactions, it makes them feel authentic and substantial. There are many instances where the author neglects to mention these aspects about a character, and while the character is fun to follow and cheer for, there is always this sense of fantasy that accompanies the reading. Sometimes it is borderline fakeness. Such as an impenetrable cowboy hero, or an extremely clever sorcerer who is always one step ahead of his adversaries. These are engaging characters that can carry a story, but they fail to convey a believable, real quality.

In order to construct believable heroes, heroines, foes, monsters, mentors, side-kicks, they have to be multi-dimensional in the same way non-metaphysical folk of flesh and blood are. There must be a competent mix of psychology, philosophy, mentality, emotions, and motivation. On and on. All the real injected into the fake.

The Island of Lote

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Genre - Young Adult Fiction

Rating – PG

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Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.


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