how to create a believable character for your novel
Characters are a great way to have fun when writing. The importance of getting them right & making them believable however cannot be understated.
Characterisation is the most important part of any piece of writing. Characters are what personalise situations for your reader and get them emotionally involved in the story. Good characters keep a reader thinking about a story long after it has finished. This article will help aid you in every aspect of character development whether you are just beginning to create them or you are adding the finishing touches. For more on the importance of strong believable characters check out our article why strong characters are important.
There are two main types of character in every story; the protagonist and the antagonist. The protagonist is your main character and should be the focus of your story. The antagonist is the primary obstacle in their path towards the chosen goal or desire. It is important to remember however that the antagonist doesn't have to be a villain.
Example: Your protagonist is in love with a married women so your antagonist would likely be the woman's husband.
To some extent your characters are chosen for you, this is dependent upon the setting and genre of your book.
Example: If your story is set in a hospital you would expect doctors and nurses etc.
Your characters need to be believable and well-rounded although not necessarily run of the mill, a large part of what make a character believable is whether the reader can identify with them, even if it is only in a minor way.
Example: If your character is an alien then most people would argue that it is not realistic. However, if you introduce your reader to the alien's personality, background, struggles etc then they become more identifiable and therefore more believable.
A good way to increase this believability is to sit down and write a list of everything you know about them including their name, age, strengths and weaknesses, family relationships and anything else that you can think of. You may not include some of this for your story but it will help you to have a clear image in your mind to work towards.
Another good way to create well-rounded characters is to imagine their belongings and which are the most important to them and why. This helps you to better understand your characters and their motivations.
Finally, one surefire way of creating a believable character is to ensure that they have some flaws, if a character has no flaws then they don't seem real. These flaws should not be pointed out to the reader they should be hinted at and then the reader can work them out for themselves.
When creating your characters you need to keep in mind that whilst you may love your protagonist the reader may not. However, it doesn't matter if the reader hates your character because at least this means your reader has gotten emotionally involved in some way. The worst possible reaction is for your readers to find your characters dull and lackluster.
Now a little note on the easy way out, by this, I mean using yourself or someone you know as inspiration for your characters. By all means use yourself and others as a starting point but experiment and use your imagination. Also, using others could open yourself up to the potential of being sued.
When your character is ready there is one final stage and that is the naming process. When you are looking at naming your characters there are numerous sources available: newspapers, the internet, telephone directories etc. Naming a character is a very important step and gives a measure of importance to your characters so only name them when it is absolutely essential. A peripheral character needs no name particularly if they are only mentioned in passing. Don't go for obvious names e.g. Mr Bad for your antagonist and remember that certain names denote certain characteristics.
This guide is in no way exhaustive but hopefully it will give you a good basis on which to build a strong and believable character.
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