Character Characteristics

How to Write Interesting, Believable Characters

In fiction writing, a great story hinges on great characters. The plot can be good, but if your characters are boring and flat, the story will be too. Take note of the winners of book and movie awards. In many cases, the award was given not because of the plot and not based on popularity of sales, but because the characters in them have unique, complex personalities or deep connections to others in relation to the story.

Character dialogue needs to be realistic. The actions they take should be too (unless you are writing about characters with superpowers, of course). Think about how people in real life talk, how they stand, and their body language. Notice people in your everyday life. Observe their habits and quirks. These real human traits can be translated into characters that are more relatable to your reader.

Be cautious not to over-explain looks and expressions in your characters. Once you have established the character, your reader will get a sense of that character’s personality and picture it in their minds while reading.

For example, I recently read a novel where the characters were always smirking. The writer wrote “she smirked” or “he smirked” about a thousand times. It got so tiring (we get it!). So, be wary of repetition in expressions and dialogue as well.

Try not to use too much, if any slang, but a character does not have to have proper language all the time. Be sensible and don’t over-do it. In dialogue, don’t write long sentences or rants. Think about how you speak with your friends and family. Short and quick sentences are generally the norm in conversation. However, if your character is delivering a speech or is in a business related conversation, that would be more technical and explanatory. Depending on your setting and who’s talking, you’ll need to adjust dialogue as necessary.

In conveying a character’s emotions, showing rather than telling is a better way to write it. As an example, instead of saying ‘Jamie was shy’ when Allie spoke, you would write that ‘Jamie blushed and shifted his feet in the dirt’ when Allie spoke to him. Remember to add body language and character movements to describe the feeling and setting. Think about the emotion you are trying to convey in that section, and have your characters show it. When you make the character feel it, you are making the reader feel it too.

In naming characters, try to be simple. It’s tempting to use unique names, especially if you write fantasy or dystopian fiction. But remember that your reader may not understand how to pronounce it in their heads, which can be frustrating for some readers and turn them off your book. Giving a character a simple name does not alter the story or value of the person you are trying to convey, because you are doing that by other means throughout the story line in what the character does, what he or she feels, what they accomplish, etc.

Remember that characters are the most important part of any story. Don’t spend all your time planning the plot twists and no time on character development. Make sure you give ample thought to each character and their role and potential impact in the story.

How do you create characters that will be memorable in a reader’s mind?

~Lynn

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