The Easiest Way To Develop Believable Characters

In our last installment, I mentioned how believable characters are the key to writing success. Whether it is starting your prose or continuing your prose or hoping that your readers enjoy your prose, your characters will make or break your prose in general.

So, the question becomes…how do I create believable characters?

Many websites feature 100-200 question “interviews” to give to each of your characters. The purpose of these interviews is the belief that–once you are done filling it out–you will know everything there is to know about that character: where they came from, who they are, their hopes, their fears, their strengths, and their faults. And this logic is not wrong, as you will know virtually everything that there is to know about that character after answering every question.

But it is completely absurd to think that a writer will feel like working on their manuscript after filling out a detailed 200-question interview from one character’s perspective…much less filling out this same interview for multiple questions.

“I don’t care WHY you failed the third grade, Margaret. Can’t I just say that you were a dumb kid and move on?”

Not only is this process unnecessarily time-consuming, but it takes away some of the fun of writing. Yes, you should know many of the basic facts for each character, but you don’t need to write their biography before you’ve even written your prose.

I always create a document with a separate page for each character, and I list down their full name, their preferred name, their birthday and age, their hair colour, their eye colour, their ethnicity, and five-to-ten bullet points regarding major life events and odd quirks. This is all that is needed to get started. As I make my way through my prose, things happen, and things get added to their initial “About Me” document. I learn more about my characters the more I write about them. Unexpected plot twists change some of their dynamics and cause them to make more sense in my mind. I find myself bonding with them more and more.

I wouldn’t have these experiences had I written out a 200-question interview about them prior to starting my prose. Mostly because I would have been so bored and frustrated that I’d have never started the prose in the first place.

So, how should you quickly get started with fleshing out characters? Borrow from reality.

All of my characters are birthed as a mix from people I know in real life and other fictional characters that I’ve found myself connected to over time. I’m not saying to write Thor into your prose. I’m saying to use Thor as an inspiration.

First of all, his name can’t be Thor. Let’s call him Daniel. Hi, Daniel!

Daniel Andersen, CrossFit extraordinaire and our lead protagonist. Remember to take the cape off of him.

Instead of Thor’s superpowers, Daniel is a professional weightlifter who can solve many of life’s occurrences through the power of physical fitness. He still retains his pretty blond hair, which makes him quite the ladies’ man. He is also still slightly aloof.

But what if that aloofness was due to a brain injury that he suffered as a teenager? Say he got into a car accident that killed his brother (sorry, Loki…I mean, Alan), and he’s got memory issues due to the effects of the physical and mental trauma. Oh my goodness gracious, we now have a whole new element to Daniel for us to explore.

He is now a flawed hero.

We can work with this.

Daniel needs a girlfriend. Let’s base her on your spastic friend, Lola. We’ll call her Brandi for the sake of the prose. Brandi retains Lola’s pixie cut, but it’s auburn rather than hot pink. We’ll also add glasses to Brandi to further distinguish her from Lola. Let’s make the glasses cracked to accentuate Brandi’s eccentricness.

When Lola finds a new mate, she overthinks things and drives him or her away. Brandi does the same thing. But since Daniel is quite aloof and also desires companionship to fill the void left by his dead brother, Brandi’s what-ifs don’t fully register in his mind. So, rather than Daniel being driven away, he just stares at Brandi oddly and then holds her until she takes a breath and calms TF down.

See how nicely this is coming along, folks? Be sure to credit me if you use Daniel and Brandi in your prose; I don’t do that ghostwriting shiz.

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