Creating believable characters
One of the greatest delights of writing is conjuring up peculiar people for your tales – but making real oddities into believable characters can be a challenge to get right.
To make your fiction believable, you need to populate it with characters the readers can identify with, from the heroes to villains, saints to rogues. Real people have a multitude of facets that make them three-dimensional – no one is entirely good or bad. We all have flaws that make us the individuals we are, just as we all have redeeming qualities too.
Making your characters believable is simply a matter of imbuing them with the kinds of details you notice in the people around you, from the sanctimonious saints to the splendiferous sinners!
If you’re reading a novel and one of the characters is out of synch with his personality it can be really frustrating and may result in you losing respect for the story. If you want to make your own stories flow, the characters have to be true to type; meaning some serious digging to research curious traits and looking at how and why people behave the way they do.
Craft your character
When creating a new character, first look at the person you want them to be: personal history, family, friends and life experiences. It’s a good writing tip to create a profile for them – you don’t need to include this in the story; it will just help you to build up a picture of who they are.
Describe how they look and sound, explain their mannerisms and dress sense. This really aids continuity and is a useful point of reference. For example; if you map Fred as tall in his profile, you’re far less likely to have him jumping up to reach a high shelf in the supermarket later on in the novel.
At times the complexity of a character may make the profile tough to compile; this is the point where you know some further research is required.
Conduct research out in the field
It’s a useful ploy to go to the type of places where the new character may frequent; sometimes this can be a seedy dive and you may need to take a friend with you for back-up!
Writing increases inquisitiveness and you’ll find this skill to be extremely useful in building up an archive of information about character types. Never plug up your ears when you’re travelling about. Listen to what’s happening all around you – you may get ideas and material for stories. There’s also the added bonus that when you listen more your observation skills improve!
Take notice of the way folk behave; everyone has his or her own special way of moving/ talking/acting and so on. You’ll be amazed by what you see and hear, and may even find yourself having to rewrite what actually happened to make it believable!
Get on the bus
Using public transport is an optimum way to pick up on bizarre snatches of conversation and to observe body language.
Shop and bus queues are also rich sources of potential material; waiting doesn’t often bring out the best in people, sometimes resulting in some seriously weird behaviour.
A subtle display of personality nuances can be lifted from observing other people’s strange habits. Imbuing traits and quirks on your characters can turn them into real people for your readers; it adds humour, interest and can sometimes stir up a memory.
Go online, read, watch and learn
If, for example, you’ve decided to write about an alcoholic and have no experience of addicts, go online and Google ‘alcoholics’ and see what comes up. Look out for films and television shows about the subject; read true life experiences regarding why people turn to drink and discover the impact on their families.
Research uncovers fascinating facts giving a greater level of understanding and hopefully adding more depth to your work.
Ultimately you need to get behind the driving force of the character; to fire them up and bring them to life. If you’re writing about a certain type of person, you need your audience to recognise them for what they are; good or bad.
Find out what makes people tick
It’s always useful to learn a bit more about the human state of being, to add power to your plots. Swot up on psychology; learn about body language traits and how to ‘read’ people.
A lot of management books give insight into dealing with difficult people; giving descriptions of how they behave and how to defuse them if they ‘go off’.
Quantify a character’s behaviour by using this information and turning it inside out; ask yourself why people behave that way – what made them do that? Think up an example; like shouting in public. Write a list of possible reasons for the shouting – is the person frustrated, angry or embarrassed? Could they be showing off; on drugs or could they have a medical condition like Tourettes syndrome?
To add a final touch of realism, try to give all your characters a redeeming feature – even if it’s just lovely eyes or an unusual hobby. It’s what humanises them; adding another level of interest to keep people reading.