by Jan Grape
in the world can I make my characters believable? you ask. Well, maybe
you didn't ask but I give you my thoughts anyway. Good believable
characters have flaws. Okay, you already know that. You've given your
hero a chipped tooth and a crooked nose. That are some distinguishing
characteristics that make him seem more human. But how about having him
be emotionally flawed. (And I'm using the male pronoun here just so I
want have to write he/she every time. This is only a matter of
convenience...not to be gender specific.) He drinks or his wife died or
he's about the lose his job. Something that many of us can relate to and
feel as if we know that character.
You don't have to
enumerate his good and bad points. Show that in your writing. If he
drinks have him have too many drinks and fall down and mess up on what
he needs to do. Or show him trying to quit and going to AA meetings. If
he's lost his wife surely he'll recall some good times with her or talk
to her or visit her grave. Now losing his wife doesn't mean that's a
character flaw but how he deals with that loss can show the flaws in
him. Maybe he starts drinking because his wife died and he's about to
lose his job because he drinks every night and comes to work hung over
and messes up everything he tried to do.
imagination can be boundless here. How do you make that character come
to life? Maybe you've had someone in your own family who drank and
ruined their life. Maybe you used to drink yourself. Draw on whatever
life experiences you can manage and if all else fails...go on a little
research trip to your neighborhood bar and observe people. Surely you
see or overhear someone who has had too much to drink. Record in your
mind how they act and then when you write about your character drinking
you'll be able to lend an air of believability to those words.
that was your hero. How about your villain? Well for one thing you
don't want him to be a horrible, mean, hateful person. Sure he's all
set to be the killer in your book or story but everyone has good points
as well as bad. He may seem on the outside to be a charming person liked
by all. (I cringe when watching most TV crime/mystery shows because
everyone close the victim who was murdered always says..."Everyone
loved Mary. I know of no one who would want to kill her.) But your
charming and probably good-looking villain is seething with greed or
jealousy. Those are traits that you can show when he reacts with family
or co-workers. Just a slight moment that gives you a clue to what could
be inside his evil mind.
Even if your hero/heroine is
flawed, you should somewhere along the line make them likable or
endearing or your reader will decide it's not worth their time to read
your book. I have read books where the main character was harsh or
spiteful and unlikable in the beginning, but I soon learned a reason why
or something happened to make me understand them a little better and
about half-way through the book, I realized I liked the character.
I sorta like to start out liking the main character. Whatever their
plight or flaw I began to understand or relate to them quickly and that
makes me want to keep reading about them. I think most readers feel like
Be careful about trying to make your
character too much like a real person. They might recognize themselves
and get mad at you for showing their flaws. Characters must only be a
product of your imagination. They definitely may be a composite of
several people you know. It's just not smart to make your mother-in-law
the wicked witch even if she is. Of course some people never see
themselves as others see them and may not even recognize themselves, but
you probably don't want to take a chance.
I may have
told you this before so forgive me if I have, but instead of writing out
a biography of your main characters. Write out the contents of their
purse or billfold. This is just an exercise for you. Or write out a list
of magazines they might have on the coffee table in their living room.
You'll be surprised how many little details you'll discover and
hopefully you'll discover their secret flaws. Once you know their
secrets you'll be on your way to making your characters seem like "real"
people. And that kids, is my lesson for the day.