Your characters and how to love them: 4 simple steps to a believable cast.
At the heart of every novel, short story or fanfiction are the characters. Whether they be good guys, bad guys, major, minor, based on real people, works of fiction, background, foreground or anything in between- your characters make up your writing and knowing them, inside and out, is the key to making them believable.
While it may seem obvious the look of your character is vital to how he, she or they are envisioned by the reader. If the character does not have a particular look in your mind then it will be ever more difficult for the reader to imagine them as being real people. Think about it, no matter how hard you try you cannot imagine a person without a face and that is exactly the principle we are putting into play here.
I’m not saying you have to describe every single character in detail for the reader to get it, not at all. I’m saying YOU have to know how they look, every detail, right down to a little scar on their right hip or a mole on their…nevermind. This is also vital for knowing your character, inside and out, which will later help in their development. If you know the superficial details then it will become easier to know the deeper ones.
However, when it comes down to it, these characters are, for all intents and purposes, real people and every person is flawed in some way. Nobody has flawless skin, flawless hair and a flawless body unless they have been Photoshopped and, unfortunately you cannot Photoshop real life. (unless your piece is set in a time when real-life Photoshopping is a thing that can happen- in which case, you can). Try to bear this in mind when creating a character, everybody has insecurities and this includes the people you create.
Hint: If you’re finding it difficult then think of an actor who you would like to play your character were it a film, then try to describe them. This will aid in describing real people and may help the reader imagine them.
Everybody has interests and if you don’t then Tumblr is probably not the place for you. Whether it be writing, singing, dancing, fashion, gaming, reading, fitness, music, cheekbones with legs on the BBC, gardening, interior decorating, just lounging around in your pants watching RSPCA Animal rescue (cough cough) or anything in between, we all have something that occupies our time and the same goes for your characters.
In order for your characters to even seem remotely real and believable they have to have things to do when they’re not saving the world/ wiping out humanity, just like any other normal person would. For example I know someone who’s novel features a Vampire who enjoys playing Tetris in his spare time. Interests make your character three dimensional they make them real to you as well as the reader. If you can’t imagine a character in their spare time, or envision them living their day to day lives outside of the novel then the characters are not strong enough yet and need more work before they can be placed in the scenario of your choice.
Once again, you don’t need to explain every iota of this to the reader, or even write much of it down. If its there, and you know its there, then not only will the reader pick up on that but it will be much easier to write the character into the story.
Note: It is worth noting here that the character should have interests relevant to them. Its no use giving a character born in the underclass of society an interest in fine cuisine or a collection of rare gemstones, interests should come with the character and time, age and social status should be noted when writing.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Lets face it: the answer is never to ‘just get to the other side’ and if it is then that is a really badly written chicken. Why does he want to get to the other side? whats over there for him? why does this chicken even grasp the concept of roads?
Okay, so that may seem a bit of a stupid time to have an existential crisis over a chicken but my point still stands: Nobody ever just does things for no reason and the same goes for your characters. In order to make them believable then you need to know why they are doing what they are doing? Why is your protagonist the one to step up and defeat the villain? Are they getting paid, or just the only one brave enough? Are they trying to impress someone, or just rise above what they have been labelled as? Is your antagonist trying to blow up the world for fun or do they believe in a greater good? Do they just not like your protagonist and would much rather see his head on a spike in their front lawn?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you write your characters into the plot of your story. Why are they doing what they are doing and what are they getting out of it? If a character has no motivation then they will fall flat and confuse the readers. Out of everything so far the motive of the character is the only one I advise you completely narrate throughout the story. Maybe not all at once, maybe not clearly but at least leave clues and hints as to why, let your readers have to turn back pages and go ‘OH, SO THAT’S WHY THEY DID THAT’ and help yourself feel like a cryptic genius.
Note: If they are completely insane and just doing what they are doing for a laugh this still counts a motive. They may not see sense or reason but ‘doing it for fun’ is still a motive for doing something and it should still be documented that this is their reasoning.
4. Other little bits and bobs.
As we all know, real people are not built up solely on looks, interests and motives or else science would be well on their way to getting me that robot butler, but its these three things which are the core of any believable character.
These are the roots to making them seem real but there are other things you need to consider to make them live and breathe as you write them. As writing down every single detail would take forever and make this post go on forever, I have decided to give you a checklist of questions to answer when writing your character (Not all of these will apply to your writing so just answer the ones that do). These are just a few, feel free to add your own and go into as much detail as you want: the more detailed the character the more deep the character.
- Where do your characters work when they’re not saving the world/ destroying it? Whats their main source of income? Why do they work there? Do they enjoy it? Why?
- Where do your characters live? Is it a nice neighborhood or a run down apartment? Why?
- What are the names of your characters parents? (Remember, these are real people too with lives they have lived, remember that while writing them) Why did they give your character the name they have?
- If your character was not born to mortal parents, how did they come about? Where did they come from? What is their purpose?
- If your character has a mythical ailment (eg. Vampirism, Lycanothropy) how did they get it? Who turned them? How old are they? How have they adjusted to life?
- Where do your characters come from? Do they still live there? Why did they move?/ Why did they stay?
- Does your character dye their hair? Why? Where do they get the dye from? How do they afford it?
- Where is your characters favourite place to go? Why?
- How many relationships has your character had? Why did they end? Do they miss them?
- Is your character allergic to anything? How have they coped if they are? How severe is the allergy?
Remember, these are just basic questions to help you round off your character. I hope this helps you create a cast both you and your readers fall in love with.