The best books have characters that remind you of your real life family and friends. Bestselling author Terry McMillan says she creates believable characters by giving them traits of people she knows well. Here are some more helpful tips.
1. Jot down your ideas.
As you begin brainstorming ideas for your short story or novel, you’ll also embark on identifying the type of characters to take readers on this journey. Make a list of your ideas (plots, settings, conflicts, relationships, etc.) and keep it handy to help you zero-in on the purpose and goals of your story’s characters.
2. Determine attributes.
Build a profile of your characters by listing their attributes to learn everything about them. While every single detail may not be conveyed in your story, an overall view makes way for strong character development and the ability to empower each character with new dimensions. Consider the following in making your characters memorable:
▪ Demographics (age, marital status, occupation, etc.)
▪ Appearance (facial features, hairstyle, height, distinguishing marks, mode of dress, etc.)
▪ Personality (introvert, extrovert, likes, dislikes, generous, selfish, etc.)
▪ Relationships (mother, father, daughter, son, sibling, best friend, worst enemy, etc.)
3. Do your research.
Taking into account your plot, setting, occupation of characters and so on, be sure to substantiate your story with research. If a character is a doctor, he or she will perceive the world differently than a professional chef, and as such will call for different language use. The amount of information you provide depends somewhat on the plot and the particular expertise you’ve bestowed upon your characters. Be true to your characters and what they represent.
4. Brainstorm names.
Make a list of character names you’ve thought of, come across before, or find charming. Having several names to choose from enables you to research each (meanings, associations), consider nicknames or shortened versions, and determine which one(s) fits your characters. Choose names that can be easily pronounced and remembered by readers. Furthermore, a name can also spark an attribute that can be added to a character to create more depth.
5. Determine behaviors.
Creating believable characters calls for making them relatable to readers. Readers want to feel that your characters are human – just like them. Study human behaviors and mannerisms (body language, actions, speech, gestures, movements, reactions, and so on) to incorporate these elements in your characters. Is your protagonist someone who’s easily agitated or quickly becomes nervous? Does your antagonist snicker when getting his or her own way? Additionally, be sure to consider how your characters manage conflict and cope with change.
6. Get inside the mind.
Dig deeper into your characters rather than cling to surface attributes. What do they think about? How do they feel? What is their point of view? What do they dream of? What do they battle within themselves? Complexity strengthens your characters and creates authenticity.
7. Give them real voices.
How do people usually talk to each other? Think of your characters as friends and family members you’re communicating with. You can choose whether to have your protagonist be the narrator or convey your story in the third person. Give your characters real voices that match their persona, and make them more relatable and distinctive to readers.
Memorable, believable characters will remain with readers long after they’ve finished your book, and they will anxiously await the opportunity to read your next one.
How can you intrigue readers to become invested in your story’s characters?
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