Creating Believable Characters When You Write
One of the most difficult tasks of being a writer is drawing your reader into your story and keeping them there. One false move and you will have your audience closing your book or clicking the ‘x’ to exit the screen faster than you can say “spellcheck.” But it takes more than having a great plot and well outlined story to keep them coming back for more. Readers want to connect with your story, and that takes believable characters. A character that a reader can relate to will do more for you than any other attribute to your work.
So how can you create believable characters? Here are a few pointers to build your characters into the people that will capture your readers imagination and win their hearts from page one.
Draw from personal experience.
You have heard the statement ‘write what you know,’ this is true to an extent. Personal experience can make your writing flow, and your writing will come across with more authority when you draw from what you know. Your characters appear authentic when they face and react to a situation in a manner that is consistent with reality. If you have been a teacher, your reader will relate when you explain the nuances of the education process your character experiences. The same can be said about emotions. No one can understand your pain, joy, sorrow, or anger like you can; no one but your reader who has been there. When you write believable characters, your reader will be saying, “I know where they were when they wrote that.”
Draw from personal experience but make subtle changes.
Okay, this is a little dangerous if you don’t do it right, but you can use a situation you have not gone through and still make it believable to your readers. This applies more on an emotional scale than vocational. It involves changing the facts of a given situation but keeping the raw emotion intact. For instance, if you have lost a loved one, you understand the heartache involved. You can take that loss and apply it to another type of pain, then place your character within the same emotional state. The same thing can go for any emotion: anger over being wronged, a paralyzing fear of heights, pain of breaking an arm, exuberant joy of a child being born, or burning jealousy of love lost—these are just examples. The nouns can change; the verbs remain the same.
Study and research people.
If you have not experienced much in your life, you know people who have. Chances are you have been the shoulder they have cried on, the ear they have whispered into, and the chest they have pounded on when they were upset. But, fair warning, before you go and write a best seller with your best friend as the main character, please discuss this with them first. That being said, being a people watcher can be an excellent source of material for writing your characters. Keeping a journal could help you as well, something to fall back on at a later date. List details about your interaction, what you experienced, what they suffered, what was the outcome. These notes will become invaluable.
Think back to the greatest books you have read. What grabbed your attention and pulled you in. I don’t think it was the city the book was set in or even the premise the writer worked long and hard to devise. Chances are you fell in love with a particular character. There was something about them, something special. You believed every written word, even related to them. Now you want to do the same. Now it’s your job to win over your readers and to have them laugh, to cry, and to shout out in rage. You want to create believable characters, and now you have the arsenal to do just that.