How to Create Believable Characters
Stories need characters who are realistic and easy to relate to -- even though they're only the product of the author's imagination. Making the characters in your mind come to life on paper, though, often is a challenge, as stereotypes and inconsistent actions can pose threats to their believability. Using meaningful description and carefully crafted actions help you create characters readers can bond with and follow throughout the characters' journeys.
Attention to detail is the key to making a character realistic. As you begin thinking about a character, brainstorm elements that could paint a complete picture for readers of whom he is. Consider things such as physical description, what kind of clothing he wears, personality quirks and how outgoing or shy he is. Note a brief biography of the character as well, detailing his background and significant experiences that have brought him to the point he's at in your story. You may not use all of this information in the first draft, but having an in-depth biography helps you bring greater dimension to the character.
Characterization in Action
The ways people respond to real situations often reveal a lot about their personalities. If a character is the first one to take charge at the scene of an accident, her actions reveal skills at leadership and staying calm under pressure, while someone who gives money to a homeless person whom others shy away from could be judged as generous and compassionate. Think of how to demonstrate your characters' core attributes through how they respond to conflicts and obstacles as well as how their actions might change as they evolve throughout the story.
Stay Away From Cliches
Mad scientists, wicked stepmothers and starving artists are all cliches -- character types that have been overused to the point of becoming unoriginal and predictable instead of realistic and believable. If you sense yourself creating a character who could be rooted in a cliche, find a way to turn readers' expectations upside-down through some unexpected traits. For example, make your mad scientist a beautiful young woman instead of an older man with messy white hair, or have your artist be a dedicated family man instead of lonely and brooding.
The Power of Flawed Characters
If a character always is nice to everyone, thinks about others before himself and never does anything wrong, readers probably won't find him very interesting. In real life, almost everyone has a weak point, whether it's a personal prejudice, a scarring past experience or an addiction. Giving your character a flaw makes him more believable and easier for readers to relate to. Think about what bad habits, personality traits or relationship problems could point to your character's weak points as well as how they might affect the story.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.