Crafting Believable Characters

To kick off the writing section of my blog, I figured why not upload my take on what it takes to make a good, interesting character.

What do readers want to know about the characters?
1. The basics. The characters should be directly affected by the events unfolding in the story, i. e. the plot. Their demeanor, the way they dress, act, and interact with others should all stem from three places: 1. What is happening to them in the story. 2. Their personality. 3. The internal conflict and how they are going about to resolve this conflict.

2. The superficial characteristics. What the character looks like should give the reader some guide as to how they present themselves to the world. It is often taken more lightly than it should. Keep in mind, however that characters not be stereotypes. However, characters should be based off real people, so taking a person too far away from what’s expected becomes a major sub-plot, or point of interest that must be addressed. Ex: a businessman with a Mohawk or tattoos on his knuckles. This contradiction needs to be explained.
What a character looks like should be consistent as well, unless the story demands a drastic change. Glasses or a beard shouldn’t suddenly pop up when convenient for the story. The character should have always had these things from their first description. Otherwise you run the risk of taking the reader out of the story.
Describing a character’s superficial features should take place fairly early in most cases, but should not be done all at once if possible. The physical traits of a character are best described as passing details rather than devoting an entire page or paragraph to them. For example: A character gets frustrated and rakes back their thinning hair. Or they start pacing around the room despite their uncomfortable dress shoes. These descriptions are brief and don’t bog down the reader with too much detail.
Be sure to avoid clichés here such as “brushing back long, flowing hair,” or “taking another drag on a cigarette,” or saying they had a “shock of white hair.”
Also, it should be noted that physical descriptions are not always necessary.

3. Date your characters. This doesn’t mean you have to sleep with them, so it is perfectly acceptable to date same sex characters.
Kidding aside, here is what I mean: Think about what you would like to know about someone after a first date. Not what is socially acceptable to know, but what you really want to know. Things like their ambitions, schooling (or lack thereof), attitudes toward things you find important (do they like the same forms of entertainment? Do they like the same food? Do they vote?), how they present themselves (are they bossy, friendly, shy?)

4. Don’t forget that characters are human not super-human. They should change and get grumpy when they are tired or hungry. They should change their minds, and sometimes in irrational ways. They should do things that seem out of character, but are justifiable in context. When things go right, they should react to that.
Avoid the impossible. I personally hate it when a character gets hurt and then does a thousand things, and then they suddenly succumb to their injury at a most inopportune time. This makes them superhuman. If the character has never been shot before, they won’t know how to deal with it. And adrenaline rush can only get you so far before it appears as though your character needs a cape, a cowl, and some fancy boots.

5. Characters should have one or more traits that make you want to know more about them. Personality quirks, a rare disease or disorder, a social phobia, inability to say no, too much confidence, unrealistic view of the world, apathy, why they regret or embrace a tattoo, birthmark, perfect body parts, or disfigurement. It’s like giving the character a little secret that allows you to be intimate with them. No one else (or very few people in the story) know this about them. These are things people try to hide or embrace.
Feel free to comment.

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3 responses to “Crafting Believable Characters

  1. Pingback: Crafting Believable Characters (via CNJamesWriter) « Amy's Joy

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