Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crafting a Believable Character

Chi and I were recently discussing characters: Well-written versus boring. Believable versus unbelievable. In general, what makes them easily relatable and interesting.

My current WIP is written 3rd person POV and involves several "main" characters over a period of time. This is a new experience for me as I've always written 1st person and kept the focus on a linear storyline. That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for "main" characters. If you're living the story as opposed to watching it, your focus is on your protagonist in his or her time.

I've been reading a lot of historical fiction lately, brushing up on the voicing and customs. One author in particular, in my opinion, has absolutely nailed character development. They're well-rounded, unique, and intriguing. While there's a common vein along each story, every character is distinct and notable. They're relationships are multifaceted, just like real people. Their mannerisms vary depending on their surroundings or situation, just like real people! You can tell who's speaking or moving by their actions and reactions. It sounds so simple, but it really is very hard.

The particular scenario Chi and I were discussing involved the relationship among three different characters and how it affected the believability of the storyline. As I'd originally plotted, there wasn't purpose to certain actions. One guy's reaction was over-the-top for the situation. His reaction is necessary to the plot, but I couldn't figure out how to make that happen without the melodrama. Finally, Chi looks at me and says, "He has to have a deeper relationship with these people in order to feel that strongly about it. There's a balance there and his passion has to have a purpose. What's their history?"

Their history? I sat there and thought about her question. Any good character, whether hero or villain or next door neighbor has to have purpose, an evolution to their current state of mind. A good hero will have a history of things he overcame to make him the savior he is. Likewise, a villain will have a lifetime of sorrows, regrets, or embittering acts that make him choose his own desires over everything else. Those histories, written or unwritten, are what make the characters real! They're imperative even if there only in your head.

Every character, like every living person, should have a history. They should have mannerisms as a result of their lives and personality. Each thing feeds into the next. Someone who grew up feeling entitled or never doing things for themselves will have a personality, traits, and actions to mimic that. For instance, they might tend to look at things with a harsher opinion. They'll have perfectly manicured features. I would imagine some hoity-toity woman tapping her foot and looking down her nose at anyone who questioned her. A man who grew up scrounging for every cent is likely going to be suspicious of others. I'd imagine he'd keep a tight grip on himself, both physically and emotionally. He isn't going to let his guard down for a moment. Those are, of course, open to any influence you choose. Just think how your upbringing, financial well-being, and social circles influence who you are outside your natural personality.

Characters should be well-developed and thought out. If your reader can't relate to your characters, they aren't going to care how the plot unfolds. They have nothing invested. Take your time, and truly think about the things that make your imaginary friends unique and real. Your readers will thank you for it!

1 comment:

  1. That is so true! Many authors make a character chart with this very information written out on a large grid. As they look at the characters they can see the distinctions and it makes their unique quirks shine through. Great post!