Making Your Characters Believable

Thank you to Quality Reads UK Book Club for hosting my post. Tips for making your characters more believable:

Making Your Characters Believable with @JessicaDall #WriteTip

When it comes to writing, I have always been a “character-driven” author. If you don’t have a good plot, of course it’s a problem, but I fully admit that it tends to be the characters that make me interested in writing a particular story rather than the plot (sometimes I’m not even entirely sure what the plot is going to be when I start out since I don’t tend to care for outlines).

Leaving the characters in charge of powering the story, however, makes building believable characters all the more important.  So how do you do that?

1.       Work out a backstory

No character exists in a vacuum. Just like you didn’t magically appear one day fully grown (I’m assuming…) your character has likely has some past that affects the person they are today. While you should certainly avoid info dumping (overwhelming your reader with a bunch of backstory that they may or may not need to know all or once) you, as the author, need to know what makes your character tick. Have they had a great sense of humor since they were a child? Did they learn it from a friend? Is it a reaction to having a very serious family? The answer may not matter to anyone else, but it will help you shape the little things about your character which turn them from ‘Character A’ to a real person.

2.       Use Character Questionnaires sparingly

All right, this comes down to if you find them helpful or not, but Character Questionnaires have only been passingly helpful for me in the past. They are great for getting the basics down, like what your character looks like or if they have siblings, but is thinking about what my character’s favorite ice cream flavor is really going to help make them real? If questionnaires work for you, go for it. You just might be better served working outside a form (I personally like writing in paragraphs when it comes to the basics) or using other character-building techniques. Like:

3.       Take your characters out of your story

Dialogue has always been my strength so I might be biased here, but one of the best ways I have found to develop a flat character is to take them out of the actual story, and throw them into a strange situation. How would Character A take it if she was suddenly stuck in an elevator with Character B. How would Character B act if he was out couch shopping with his mother? Without having to worry about where the story is going, the characters are free to talk to one another and generally interact with the world, which can give you some great insight into everything from their speech patterns to past relationships.

4.       Let your character lead

This one doesn’t happen to everyone, but sometimes well-developed characters get a little headstrong. If you find yourself writing and all of a sudden a character decides that they actually don’t really like a character you meant to make their best friend/significant other, let them make the change. It’s a good sign your character is developed enough to react to a situation as their own person—forcing them back to what you originally were planning will often suddenly shatter the little things that make them a “real”, believable person.


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