Writing believable characters
Recently I was asked by a young co-worker to proof some of his work. After reviewing the material I had some advice for him about writing settings etc, and one of the things he asked me, was how to write believable characters. Having never been inside the head of anyone other than himself, this seemed a daunting task.
Of course I told him it’s all in your imagination, and the more you exercise that muscle, the more realistic your characters will be. I sent him back a least of 5 tips that I like to work by.
- They always say to write about what you know. In this case when you are talking about character creation, I go by the old adage of “Write who you know.” Pretty much every character I create is based upon someone I know or maybe have just met briefly. People are strange and quirky and some of the best characters have really weird traits.
- Once created, a character needs to stick to his or her guns. By this I mean, they need to keep acting the same way all of the time (Unless they have gone through a profound change in their life for some reason that you have written in…) As an example, I based Coral- Garrett’s therapist -on a specific person in my life. Of course Coral is nothing more than my perception of how my friend would react to the situations I write Coral into. But let’s just say for the heck of it that Coral hates men (not that she does). I can’t have this character react a certain way toward men throughout a section of the book and then have her sidling up to men and being all flirty in another section (without reason). So with that being said, I have to write each scene asking myself how would my friend react in that setting. Dialgue also falls under this. Your characters will not only have certain beliefs, but will talk a certain way. Keep it predictable (for that character).
- It’s all good to give somebody a quirk or a certain way of looking at life, but once you’ve applied it to a character don’t forget about it. I once had a character that limped through several chapters (I never fully explained why…and I figured I’ll get around to it), when suddenly the limp was gone during the next few chapters. Oops! Also on that note, if you have written about an older character with creaks and back pains etc, remember their liabilities. Don’t have them doing things they probably wouldn’t do in their condition. (Except for Yarl and Fonn. Those boys can still move at 94 and 96!)
- Keep track of the small details and remember them. It’s all fine and dandy to talk of the girl with the tawny curls and the bright green eyes, as long as she still has those same green eyes at the end of the story (Unless they were cut out for some ungodly reason.) You may think it doesn’t matter, especially with secondary characters, but it really does. If you say someone is five foot ten and then all of a sudden they are taller than another character that was listed at six feet, then you are not taking the time to sand down all the rough edges of your story. Readers like a polished tale and keeping things accurate is all part of becoming a master storyteller. Personally, I keep an excel sheet with every character and all of their traits.
- Mix it up. As a whole you need to have a collective variance in your characters. People don’t like cookie cutter profiles. They shouldn’t all think the same and act the same. There has to be conflict. Some of my best characters don’t think like me at all – and they’re not afraid to say so!
Grant Reed has a background in business management, computer programming, and computer networking. He would much rather be out fishing though, so he spends his time writing and exploring the lakes in his back yard of Canada. He lives in Lively Ontario, Canada with his wife Robin, and their two children Aidan and Megan.
Gary Reed, his wife Kerry and their two children, Hannah and Kailey also live in Lively Ontario, Canada. And yes, he spends his time exploring the countryside too. Photography, fishing, and playing with his girls are amongst his interests.
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