How to Make Your Characters Believable
Making three dimensional characters is challenging. But the more real you can make them, the more you’ll be able to pull a reader into your story. I thought I’d invite two of my characters to this post to make things a little more interesting. Damon, the protagonist from Unison, is a psychological engineer. He believes he knows what makes people tick. Markos, the protagonist from Jessie’s Song, is a jazz guitarist, and he’s still trying to figure out what makes him tick. He spends most of the interview with his guitar in his hands, playing little melodies. It gets quite annoying. I’m starting to see why his ex-wife was bothered by it.
Hi guys,” I said. “What makes you feel so real to me when I write you?”
“I should answer this first,” Damon said, “as this is my area of expertise.”
Markos said nothing, and I cleared my throat to catch his attention.
“Whatever,” Markos said as he continued playing his guitar. “I only agreed to this because you promised me a sequel.”
“But I still haven’t figured out all of the plot yet,” I said. “It would help if you give me a little input.” I waited for a response but none came.
Damon pointed his finger at Markos. “Habits are also a way of understanding characters. For instance, Markos’s indifference to what you’re saying demonstrates a level of self-centeredness and—”
Markos stopped playing and pointed his pick at Damon. “I’m focused. Big difference.”
“I was going to make that comparison had you bothered to let me finish my explanation. I, too, tend to focus on my work to the point where I don’t notice what’s happening around me. Once when I was practicing my violin, the school fire alarm went off, and I didn’t even hear it.”
“Strange,” I said. “You both are similar, but you’re nothing alike.”
“We’re the product of a different era,” Damon said. “And that’s reflected in the way we think, speak and react.”
“However, both of your goals are a matter of life and death.”
“But I only have twenty-four hours to figure out who kidnapped my daughter before I have to kill myself,” Markos said. “Damon has lifetimes to deal with his issues.”
“Very true, but the stakes in my story are potentially more devastating.” Damon laughed. “Wish it were only my own death I had to worry about. That would’ve been so much easier to deal with.”
“I didn’t have time to take a few years off and live in a cabin in the woods,” Markos said. “If only my life was that relaxing.” He shook his head from side to side and returned to playing his guitar.
I recall you taking time to write some poetry in the middle of your ordeal,” I said.
“Writing calms me.”
“I can relate to that. Between getting shot at and attacked, I took long walks in the woods with my dog, Shisa,” Damon said. “And whenever I was in New Athenia, I would go to the park to feed the ducks in the pond.” He smiled. “My favorite one was Gadfly. He never followed the flock. That duck taught me a lot about independence.”
Markos stopped playing. “Shot at? You’re not as dull as you sound.”
I snapped my fingers. “More aspects of personality. How you react to pressure!”
“I also play the violin in an orchestra,” Damon said. “They tell me I’m the reincarnation of Mozart.”
“You’re one spacey dude,” Markos said. “What planet did you just arrive from?”
“I’m from here, but in the far future. I lived in a dome for most of my life and only recently found out about all the Ancient Earth cultures, which made me feel ignorant. I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
“I know that feeling well. Whenever I’m around my ex I feel like a complete imbecile. She’s a professor at N.Y.U., and half the time I don’t get what she’s talking about.” Markos stopped playing his guitar and grinned. “But man, you should see her. She looks like Billie Holiday.”
“Who’s Billie Holiday?” Damon asked. “Never heard of him.”
Markos looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Are we done yet? I got a gig tonight.”
“I have my violin with me,” Damon said. “Mind if I sit in for a set?”
“As long as you don’t play any Mozart.”
“I can play jazz, and I can also play the electric guitar. Have you ever heard of the rock group Tearing Nations?”
“Must be after my time.” Markos returned to playing.
I hope you enjoyed my little exercise at writing about characterization. Some things to consider when developing your characters:
- Give them a backstory
- Give them a clear goal that readers will sense right away
- Reveal their insecurities and fears
- Give them habits that reveal subtext
Some other areas I explore for my characters:
- Paradox in their personality
- Personal philosophy
- Religious beliefs, if any
- Inner conflict
Also consider one of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, which I sometimes use for my characters when I’m first developing them.
Award winning author, Eleni Papanou, wrote her first poem when she was an outcast at school. Honored with the name "Greek Freak," she believed life was plagued with misery, torment and endless suffering. A spontaneous kundalini awakening thrust Eleni on a spiritual path that constantly tested her to the breaking point by challenging her world-view and everything else she held sacred. Through visions and personal insights, Eleni eventually discovered the Universe has a sense of humor. She started laughing more--mostly at herself--whenever she caught herself taking things too seriously. After many years on the path of self-rediscovery--along with the addition of a husband, two daughters and a bout with cancer, Eleni had a lot to say. Having already written several screenplays, she decided to describe her experiences in novel form.
In addition to writing, Eleni likes to spend her free time with her husband and two daughters that she home schools. Her hobbies include audio recording, photography, collage art, singing, songwriting, photography, graphic arts, bodybuilding and hiking. For more information and updates, visit her website to find out more about her debut novel, Unison, an epic that will take four books to tell, as well as two other books scheduled for release before the year's end.