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Five Essential Tips for Writing Believable Characters


Hello there,

I’ll tell you, things just keep getting more strange and weird around here. Just when I thought Vox Chronos, the technology glitches, and his blog were a fever dream, he reached out to me again. And, it wasn’t the way he had reached out to me before. No, this time he contacted me with a more...normal method. That’s right, he emailed me!

His email admitted that his beacon rays were damaged and that the signal he normally used was down. I swear, I’m starting to think this guy just might be some grown middle-aged man sitting in his mother’s basement with nothing better to do. He could have emailed me this entire time, and it took broken equipment to get a simple email from the guy.

His email was also a request for me to write and publish another blog post about writing. Of course, I was thrilled about this portion of the email. I attempted to ask some clarifying questions about who he was, but I quickly realized that he had the audacity to set up an automated system to speak to me instead.

I was a bit frustrated by this to say the least; however, I suppose I can understand. So far, I don’t know as much as I would like to about Vox Chronos– I do know that he’s a pretty busy guy. My heart is telling me to “trust the process” while my brain wants to be suspicious. I’m choosing to listen to my heart.

Here goes nothing!

Five Essential Tips for Writing Believable Characters

Thorough and careful character development is an essential element to any good story. Whether you have a character-driven plot or a story-driven plot, your readers will mostly become invested in your story through the believable and relatable characters they meet along the way!

While there is an art to developing believable and relatable characters, it is a skill that most of us possess and can master with just a bit of practice. Even if your story includes magical creatures and extreme personality types, you can design characters that will encourage your readers to fall in love and keep turning the pages. If you are in the market for character development tips, check out these five strategies to help you get started:

Table of Contents:

  • Watch and Learn

  • Give Your Characters Depth

  • Seek Guidance

  • Focus on Dialogue

  • Consistency is Key

Watch and Learn

As briefly mentioned in our Five Tips for Writing an Effective Mystery or Suspense Story article, observing real people in everyday life is one of the best practices you can do to develop your skills in creating believable characters. Now, I’m definitely not advising you to go around making it obvious that you are watching someone’s every move! Simply go about your normal day-to-day life, but take note of how those around you speak to each other and react to certain situations.

Observing real-life people will help you effectively write relatable characters within your story. You will be able to determine, accurately, how a reasonable person would react in various situations and apply that knowledge to your own story. This method also helps if you relate your characters to real people. If you are unsure how to make your character react, you can always think about how that real-life person would react and go from there!

Give Your Characters Depth

Giving your characters a backstory will, in turn, give an explanation for the reasons why they act the way they act and say the things they say. For example, let’s say you have a female character in your story who tends to react violently and angrily towards any middle-aged man disagreeing with her. Your readers may be confused about why your character is reacting this way to only middle-aged men. However, if your readers discover that this character had been severely abused by her father at a young age, they may be more willing to accept her volatile behaviors.

Keep in mind that you do not have to explain every character’s backstory ahead of time or even when the character is first introduced in the story. You can reveal this information gradually, ahead of time, or even later on in the novel. As long as your readers are given the appropriate amount of information to understand your character’s behaviors, you are all set!

Seek Guidance

Can you picture a story where you could almost believe the characters could exist in real life? Have you ever read a story where you could practically hear what the characters were saying and imagine exactly what they were doing? What book do you admire the most purely for its character development? Are there any books you can picture that you know for certain did not do a good job in creating relatable characters?

The book(s) you are picturing when I ask these questions will be a good guide for you when it comes to working through your own character development! Likewise, if you have any books you did not enjoy, it may be a good idea to use these as an example of what not to do. While writing, if you find yourself stuck when writing dialogue or even a scene where a character reacts, you can always flip through your favorite books for a hint at what path you could take in your own story. Be careful to not copy another author’s style exactly, and only use them for a jump start or guidance!

Focus on Dialogue

First off, make sure any dialogue present in your story services a purpose within the story. Readers will become bored and tired if they can’t trust that the dialogue they are reading is being said for a reason. With that being said, avoid pointless conversations and small talk between your characters. When your audience is reading dialogue in your story, they should be able to count on the fact that something is being revealed about the plot or even another character within the story.

Like real-life people, your characters should have their own backgrounds, personalities, likes, dislikes, and individual biases. That means they will all have different ways of speaking and reacting in different social situations within your novel. If you are having trouble differentiating your characters, think about them as individuals and think through how they may react in different ways to the same situation. If your characters all sound the same when they are speaking, it is likely that your readers will feel as though your characters are falling flat and they will lose interest.

Consistency is Key

Building on the other tips in this article, it is important for your characters to be consistent in how they speak and act. For example, that same character as before who dislikes middle-aged men should consistently dislike middle-aged men throughout the novel. Unless something defining happens within the story to change her mind about middle-aged men, there is no reason for her to act differently. For this character to all of a sudden, without explanation, begin to like middle-aged men would break the reality you have created within your story.

In addition, characters who start out a story with a defining accent or way of speaking should keep that same aspect throughout the story. You wouldn’t want a farmer with a heavy Southern accent to all of a sudden speak without that accent. Inconsistent character dialogue, actions, and reactions is a sure way to make your readers lose interest in your story. Any big changes in the way a character speaks or acts should be able to be explained by a defining moment within the story.

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