Friday, November 8, 2013

Kevin Sterling – 5 Ways to Make Characters Believable @ksterlingwriter

“5 Ways to Make Characters Believable”

One of the surest ways to make a novel fall flat is to fill it with characters that are unbelievable, uninteresting, unimaginative or inconsistent. I think it’s easy for authors to fall into their own personalities and allow them to resonate through all the characters in a book. If that happens, readers often get bored.

There are many ways to make characters more believable and interesting, but here are five that I often use, and my readers appear to like the results.

  1. Get to know your characters first. Despite how valuable I think they are, I don’t typically use character bios, but I do spend a lot of time getting to know my characters before I start writing them into a book. When I’m done with my “getting acquainted” process, I know them quite intimately whether I actually like them or not. Then I turn them loose in the story to do what they want, letting them stay true to themselves rather than impose my preconceived notions of what they should feel or do. If your characters are not vividly alive in your mind, don’t hesitate to write bios to get them up to speed. Most authors do.
  2. Find pictures of them. One way I animate characters in my mind is by searching online for a representative photo of them. Then, when I really need to connect with what’s going on with them, I pull up the photo, and we spend a little quality time together. It’s amazing how visual imagery conjures up so much thought and emotion.
  3. Allow them to change the story. Part of allowing characters to do their own thing is allowing them to change your plot or storyline. I often feel like I have no control over what some characters are doing and that I’m just finding clever ways to describe what’s going on. So, if they go off on a tangent, whether I like it or not, I need to let them be and work my story around it.
  4. Pay attention to speech patterns. Everyone uses different terminology, expressions and speech patterns, so it’s important to research or at least recognize the dialect of each character, hear them speak as you type their dialogue, and stay consistent. For example, many of my books include people in Europe or other parts of the world who speak English as a second language, and unless they’ve spent significant time in an English-speaking country, they probably don’t use contractions. So I’m very careful to make sure they don’t. However, in my latest book, two of the characters are from Egypt, but they have both lived in England for several years, so they were an exception to the no contraction rule.
  5. Let them be different from you. When we’re on the prowl for new friends, we usually look for people who share the same interests and opinions we do. The likelihood of compatibility increases exponentially, after all. But book characters are there to fill a role, and you don’t have to like them. In fact, some of your characters, most likely the villains, should be uncomfortable to spend time with. Just be sure when you’re writing from their point of view that the feelings and attitudes are theirs, not yours…as distasteful as that may be.

Happy writing!

Kevin Sterling

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Genre – Action, Mystery, Suspense

Rating – R

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