How to Make Your Characters Believable
The very first book I attempted to write was a disaster. I basically told the story as if I was writing a letter to my mother. I included lots of detail, very little dialogue, and worst of all, my tone was preachy. But I wrote it, and there was some satisfaction in that.
However, when I tried to get it published, I received rejection after rejection. Finally, one editor told me what was wrong with my writing. She said it was too wooden, was full of moralizing, and that my characters had not come alive. This was so devastating to me that I set it aside. It was an extremely busy time of my life anyway, so I felt like, “Oh well, I tried that, but it didn’t work. Time to get on to other things.”
Years later, I read that manuscript again. It only took me a page or two to realize that what the editor had told me years before was spot on. I didn’t even want to read it.
By that time, I’d had experience writing articles and even editing other people’s work, so I’d grown a lot from my first attempt at a novel years before. I began reworking that novel, starting with an entirely different beginning. By the time I was done, I’d improved every single page and learned the following:
Know your characters inside and out.
When I first started writing, I tried to make my characters fit into my mold. My attempt to shove them into that shell so stunted them that they were one-dimensional, dull, and completely inconsistent. So as I rewrote my book, I spent a lot of time thinking about who my characters were and let them guide me. Sometimes, I’d have in mind that a person would go in a certain direction, but when I got to that crossroads, I suddenly knew my character wouldn’t do that because it was not consistent with their personality. In a sense, my characters write their own stories.
Your characters should reveal both good and bad sides.
Bad people can be thoroughly bad in your novel, but good people should have to struggle with being decent human beings. Your reader should feel the angst that your character is going through in trying to do the right thing. And your character can even fall at times and do the wrong thing. It will only make that character more understandable to your reader, because everyone can identify with failure.
I said bad characters can be thoroughly bad, but it can be appealing to have the wicked people in your novel struggle with guilt once in a while about what they are doing. The more human you make the characters, the better. And if a villain chooses to do a good thing at some point, it makes him or her believable, since we are all on both sides at one time or another.
Let your characters feel, not just do.
Finally, don’t just run your characters through all the events of your novel; let us feel what they are feeling. Are they frightened? Tell us what that feels like to each character. Are they astonished? What does that look like in your male character? How is that astonishment different in your female character? Are they overwhelmed? Maybe that makes one character feel like charging in and taking over, but another character wants to retreat.
So the key is to give us insight into what makes your characters tick. If you do that well, we will connect with them and either love or hate them. Because why would you want to read about someone you didn’t care about one way or another?
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Genre – Fairy tale, Fantasy
Rating – G