5 Ways to Create Believable Characters
Good character design is an absolutely essential skill for any novelist to master. Strong, believable characters are what bind readers to the story; they become invested in the characters and in what happens to them. Nobody wants to read a book or comic in which the characters are badly thought out or unrealistic.
Creating such characters is where a lot of new writers struggle. Below are the 5 key points to good character creation
- Create a strong back story for your character
- Allow your character to evolve
- Give character a distinct voice or personality
- Don't try to make your character perfect
- Build a good world
Create a Strong Backstory
When creating a character you must remember that you are in essence, creating a person, whether it is a human you are writing about or something else. A living (or not) being. And all beings have a backstory, something that makes them relevant. This is the single most important step; if you want your characters to be deeply engaging to readers or an audience, you will need a strong mental image of exactly who they are.
Ask yourself questions about the character: Where were they born? Where did they grow up? What is it about their life that makes them interesting and worth the reader's time?
Allow Your Character to Evolve
Nobody goes through life without changing. Humans are not static creatures nor should any character be. Not only is it highly unrealistic for a character to be unmoved and unchanged by anything that happens in the story, it is also extremely boring. A large part of a good story is following the main character through his or her trials and troubles and watching them change and adapt as the plot progresses.
If you are struggling to find ways in which to allow a character to evolve, just look around you. Observe people - how they react to given situations, whether its people in real life or in movies or in other books by authors writing in your genre. If that fails just picture yourself in the situation you want your character to be in. What would you do? How would the events you are writing about make you feel? What would change about yourself?
Create a Distinct Personality and Voice
This is another important part of the process. Many people fail at this and end up creating conversationally bland pieces, where all the characters sort of sound the same. Again, not only is this lazy and unrealistic but it is extremely off-putting to readers. I have given up many a book myself because of poorly written characters; no matter how good the story is, if the people in it aren't believable, one cannot be sucked into the world.
Listen to people around you, watch and read, looking for the subtle ways in which directors and other authors have structured their works. Give characters quirks or speech or thinking that are unique solely to them. Create each character's personality entirely from scratch and try to make them as diverse as possible. Imagine how boring a novel would be if all the characters had the same opinions all the time? Try and avoid this at all costs.
Nobody is perfect and no character should be either. Giving characters unique flaws, either small or large, a few or many, is what sets the great writers apart. A flawed character is not only potentially engaging but also enables readers to relate to them.
Picture a story about a detective who was so good at his job he solved every case, every time. He was the perfect husband, colleague and neighbor and his life was dreamy. Doesn't sound very appealing does it? However if you twist it so that he is still a great detective, but with a drinking problem and a mild gambling habit, someone who has had a not-so-great life that has taken him to some dark places. Wouldn't you be mildly more interested in finding out how the detective in question has overcome is personal demons?
Build a Good World
Whilst this does not directly concern good character creation it is still highly relevant. The link between great characters and a great setting is a strong one - you cannot have one without the other and still hope to have something people will want to read.
Developing a good world or setting for your character's story to take place is essential - how are readers going to become invested in your character, no matter how awesome he/she is, if the world in which they inhabit is dull and dreary? And on the flip-side how will readers enjoy a beautifully crafted world if the eyes through which they experience it are unpalatable? Your world should be rich and engaging, a colorful complement to your equally interesting characters.