Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Importance of Writing Believable Characters

How badly do you struggle with this?  For some people it comes naturally.  For others it's a challenge.  I understand that making a character real and flawed adds to believability, but I also find my mood effects how well I write them.
My goal is to write characters that make you . . . 


Gasp with fear      

Fall in love        

While searching the internet for helpful ways to accomplish this, I found a list from Melissa Donovan and thought I'd post it below.
12 Character Writing Tips To Help You Develop Characters That Feel Like Real People:
1.    Backstory: we are born a certain way, but our life experiences continually mold and shape us. Each character has a life before the story. What is it?
2.    Dialogue: the way we talk depends on the language we speak and where we live (or grew up) but there’s also something unique to each person’s style of speaking. We repeat certain words and phrases, inflect certain syllables, and make certain gestures while we speak.
3.    Physical Description: our primary method of identifying each other is the way we look; hair and eye color, height and weight, scars and tattoos, and the style of clothing we wear are all part of our physical descriptions.
4.    Name: Esmerelda doesn’t sound like a soccer mom, and Joe doesn’t sound like an evil sorcerer. Make sure the names you choose for your characters match their personalities and the role they play in the story.
5.    Goals: Some say that a character’s goals drive the entire story. He wants to slay the dragon. She wants to find love. Goals can be small (the character is shopping for a new car) or big (the character is trying to take over the world). Come up with a mix of small and large goals for each character.
6.    Strengths and Weaknesses: Villains sometimes do nice things and heroes occasionally take the low road. What are your character’s most positive and negative behaviors and personality traits?
7.    Friends and Family: these are the people in our inner circles, and they have played important roles in shaping our personalities and our lives. Who are your characters’ friends and family before the story starts? What new friends will they meet once the story begins?
8.    Nemesis: a nemesis is someone with whom we are at odds. This character doesn’t have to be a villain, but the goals of the nemesis definitely interfere with your character’s goals.
9.    Position in the World: what do your characters do for a living? What are their daily lives like? Where do they live? What is a character’s role or position among his or her friends, family, or coworkers?
10.  Skills and Abilities: a character’s skills and abilities can get him out of a tight spot or prevent him from being able to get out of a tight spot. Skills can be useless or they can come in handy. Does your character have an education or special training? What can he do?
11.  Gestures, Mannerisms, and Quirks: One character chews her nails while watching movies. Another runs his hand through his hair when he’s trying to figure something out. Give your characters identifiable quirks and behaviors, like real people.
12.  Fears: An old fiction writing trick is to figure out what your character is most afraid of, then make the character face it. We all have fears. Characters should, too.

Although some of these techniques seem long, I've heard them mentioned at SCWBI conferences by many published authors. 

One thing I like to do to get in the mood is listen to music that fits the scene or chapter I'm about to write.  I once read that to create a real character you have to go deep and reveal secrets and traits that show fault and vulnerability.  It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to do this, because we usually hide these things in ourselves—keep them private.  But showing the dirt is what makes us real and is what will make your character/s relatable on a profound level.  Isn't that what we strive for as writers and what we love as readers?

If you have helpful tricks or techniques you use to create believable characters, please share them below in a comment.  As a writer, you can never get enough advice. 

Thanks and have a creative day!


  1. Thank you so much!! I am new in expressing my desire to write, something I have always wanted to do, and this post helped me very much. I saved your blog in my fav's, to refer to and read more in depth later...I loved it!! Also clicked your follow button. Sandy

  2. As someone who is not an outliner, I find that I don't really know who my characters are until I'm 3/4 the way through my first draft. I've tried outlining and character profiles, and the characters just won't cooperate. They must reveal themselves while in action. So, once the first draft is done, I go though several revisions, take out the stuff that doesn't really fit and fine tune the stuff that does. And when that doesn't work, I send emails to my crit partner entitled, "Help!"