ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Make Your Characters' Actions Appear 'Real'

Updated on July 18, 2011


Many a good novel or story has lost the reader’s interest when the character did something implausible, or even impossible. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown has his inexhaustible hero Professor Robert Langdon woken up half way through the night then chased by villains across all Europe. Yet 24 hours later he is still cracking codes with the genius of a TV quiz star. Any normal person would be in a coma.

This might be a way to win sales, but not your readers’ respect.

If you want your character to do something unusual, do it yourself. Otherwise, you will never know if it is humanly possible - at least, the way you describe it. You will also be able to convey - convincingly - how the experience looks, feels, hears, smells or tastes to your character. True, you might not wish, personally, to flee a drug-crazed axman or abseil one-handed down the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. But if it’s do-able, do it.

When I wanted my character to rescue a heron snarled high in an ancient elm, I scaled my plum tree. After ten feet, my hair was thick with dust, leaves, and insects. (I had never realised how dusty tree bark can become in dry weather.) I had become massively perforated like St Bartholomew with little twigs and my trousers were green-grimed with mould.

Of course, I then got stuck. (Branches are never as conveniently close to hand in real life as they are in fiction.) My wife had to rescue me with a ladder.

On another occasion, I needed a thief to climb an old staircase with a lantern in his hand. So I did it. I found it was necessary to step on the inside of the stairwell to avoid telltale creaking noises and to breathe very slowly (ditto). I also had to tread on the balls of my feet (ditto) and balance myself on the banister by my left elbow. (I didn’t want to leave finger marks.)

I realised that, if a detective finds a clear full footstep on a dusty stair, it has probably been put there deliberately.

All these details found their way into my story.

Walk your talk

When historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick sets her stories in medieval castles, she visits them - with camera, notebook and tape measure in hand. If she tells you that her hero in 1395 wriggled out of a kitchen window of Ludlow Castle that was 15 inches wide, 16 feet above the courtyard and ten paces from the main gate, you can trust her. She’s measured it.

That’s one reason she has a loyal readership. Apparently, some readers even make a point of visiting the locations of her novels to check her measurements!

Don’t just imagine it. Do it. Walk your story, so far as sanity permits. And readers will believe you - and the story.

For a 14-part mini-course in story writing go to:

See also... Tested Ways to Beat Writers' Block. Click here.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)