This sounds like a really dumb question, but consider this: think about the last book you began to read and then put down because you couldn’t get into it, couldn’t relate to the plot or the characters. If it was the characters, I would bet it was because they didn’t come across as believable. Or normal, if you will. They might have been caricatures, the kind of characters that are written as overblown personalities: too dramatic, too boring, just not real people. Think of caricature drawings. They hint at looking like the real person, but in reality they are distortions. No reader will invest in characters who are not fully developed on the page or who are so over written as to not be believable. And I don’t mean just the descriptions of blue eyed, brown haired, endomorph, long legged. What I’m referring to are characters who are really shells. No substance underneath. I heard this description of a character once and it fits perfectly here: she’s like an expensive car without an engine; beautiful on the outside, but hollow. Nice to look at, but that’s all.
So how do you make your characters into believable beings?
One way for me is to show consistency. If you say someone has been afflicted by nerves their entire life, show them being nervous, even at the slightest thing. Show them acting and reacting to events that take place in your story. Someone who has a morbid fear of snakes is not going to run into the herpetology exhibit at the zoo with anticipation and glee on their face. That’s just not believable with what we’ve been told about the character. If I tell you my hero is a brave warrior, and then show him running away from a cat, well, that just doesn’t fit. His reactions don’t match his description. Consistency in thoughts and actions is a key factor toward developing believable characters.
Now if the person suffering from Ophidiophobia is placed in a situation where she has to save a loved one from – you got it – snakes, then you have to at least hint at the fact that this person would do anything for a loved one, be it run into a burning building to save them, or jump into a snake den to pull the loved one to safety, despite their phobia. Consistency works in thoughts AND deeds.
We all have fears, foibles, and character traits that make us unique. No one – NO ONE – is perfect. If you write a character that has no flaws – even slight ones – the reader will probably be turned off. I know: who doesn’t want a perfect guy, right? But let’s face it, perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be. A little temper, a little selfishness when used correctly, a little messiness – you figure it out – all makes the character seem more like a real person and not just someone you put on a page and have things happen to. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a little sumthin’ sumthin’ that doesn’t need improving or commenting on. This one is tightfisted and has the first penny ever earned. This one claims to care nothing about looks, but will only date guys she considers a 9 or 10. I can be shallow, I know, but it’s true. Think of your friends, loved ones, and even people you don’t like. I can guarantee there’s something you’d like to change or fix about them. Use that trait in one of your characters and don’t fix it! Believe me, it’s fun to do.
This is a very near and dear topic to me so I’ll be spending a few blogs on it.
Until next time, though, re-evaluate your character(s). Look for flaws and if he doesn’t have any – give him some. Make sure whatever you write is consistent throughout the work, too. And if it’s not, make sure you foreshadow, or hint, that this is the reason why it’s not.