Creating Believable Characters

A reader of my eBook, EVO Nation, asked me if I could give her any tips for creating characters that reader’s can believe in.

I decided that this aspect of writing needed a blog post of its own. Character building is a favourite of mine, and I am happy to share my tips and tricks for creating believable characters.

Picking The Name:

There are arguments about this aspect of character development. Some writer’s believe that a name is just a name, that the name adds no more to a character’s personality than if they chose a ham or cheese sandwich for their lunch. The other writer’s, myself included, believe that a name does add to the character’s personality.

There are preconceptions that come with names. If I heard the name Brad, I’d think of a manly man, possibly a sporty, athletic type. If I heard the name Mary-Hannah, I’d think of a homely, country girl. Choosing the right name for your character’s is an important foundation to build their personality upon.

Visual Description:

How does your character look? Hair colour, eye colour, height, etc. It sounds pretty straight forward, and it is, if it’s done right. If your character is fairly generic in looks, you need to add in extra details. This creates fantastic visual cues for the reader, but also adds another dimension to their personality without having to pile in bags of information.

For example: Frankie’s short, dark hair doesn’t emasculate her as much as it appears she hopes it does. Her porcelain skin and doe eyes, no matter how much eye liner she has drawn around them, give her an almost otherworldly look. The biker boots, leather jacket, and the I don’t care attitude scream, ‘I’m trying to fit in’. It’s not surprising, seeing as she is the only female tracer in a team of eleven men. In fact, she is the only female tracer I have ever met. You have to be hard core to be a tracer, the training alone takes seven years. If only she would realise how kick ass she actually is.

Clothes, make-up, and hair style all add to the reader’s first impression of Frankie. Get it right, and the reader can make their own assumptions- the right assumptions.

Background:

A spider diagram works for me when I’m establishing a characters background. Others create a character sheet that they use as a template for each character. The following list should be included in all background brainstorming tasks:

  • Nationality
  • Current home (lifestyle description)
  • Language
  • Parents/ any living family.
  • Significant life events
  • Religion (if any)
  • Job
  • Relationships (lovers, friends, employers)
  • Level of education

Not all the information you put down needs to be included in your writing, but it helps to know every detail about your character to drip feed tid-bits as and when necessary. It also aids consistency in your writing.

Dialogue:

After I’ve established background, I jot down some dialogue ideas or a particular turn of phrase that the character may use. It is important to jot down these ideas as a point of reference for the future; a handy reminder to ensure the dialogue is consistent.

Listening to real people holding real conversations is fascinating. You will find people have a favourite word they frequently use. One friend of mine has a habit of ending their sentences with ‘right?’ Another friend has a fondness for a certain cuss word. Your character will too if you want them to be believable.

Background brainstorming should always be completed before dialogue brainstorming. A character’s nationality/current home will have an affect on how they talk. For example, Scottish characters may say lass instead of girl. If they are religious they would probably not swear.

Attributes and Flaws:

We are humans not robots. We don’t always make the right decisions, or behave how we should. I, for one, have many flaws. I am impatient, short tempered, and I find it hard to say no to people. On the up-side, I believe myself to be creative, loyal, and passionate.

Your characters are people too. They need contrast to be believable. One dimensional characters show off sloppy writing and poor storytelling skills.

A minor character in my novel sums this up perfectly when giving Teddie, the protagonist, a wake up call – ‘There are no such things as heroes and villains. You’re living in the black and white, while the rest of us are in the shitty grey.’ 

What would my character do?:

As I have pre-mentioned, believability and consistency go hand in hand. You cannot change your character’s reactions to certain situations just to have the story continue a certain way.

You may hear authors saying, ‘My characters are not doing anything I tell them.’ No they’re not insane, they’re allowing their characters to develop naturally and determine how they’d react in a believable, true to self way.

The best thing to ask yourself is what would my characters do? What would they say? How would they say it? It may not take your story where you had initially planned, but the new journey will be surprising and definitely believable.


 If you found this post interesting, why not check out my similar post? Creating Antagonists

Link to my eBook: EVO Nation

All excerpts are the works of K.J.Chapman

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