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Bob Nailor

Believable Characters

Exactly what is a "Believable Character" and why is it important to you, the writer?

If your character is banal, transparent or utterly lackluster, your reader will quickly lose interest in the story. That doesn't mean your character has to be a super-hero or bigger-than-life type person; but every main character in your story needs to be able to stand on their own merits.

Is a believable character easy to develop? Of course not! It it were, then everyone would have those great books we all love to read. It takes creative imagination to develop characters who strike a chord inside your reader and can identify with or embrace the character. You want the reader to care about what happens. You want the reader's gut to drop out of their body when your character falls into the chasm.

So exactly what does this mean? I finished reading Melanie Rawn's "Dragon Prince" series. I found her characters to be alive and everyone existed inside my mind. I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Were the characters real? Yes and no. They weren't real in the sense they actually existed but yes, they were real within my mind and at the moment while I was inside the world Ms. Rawn created, I cared. I was emotionally involved with their lives and all that was happening so that when one character died, I actually had tears welling in my eyes. I felt as though I'd lost a very dear friend.

Melanie Rawn had grabbed my very being with that particular character, connecting with my soul and spirit. It was then I realized, if I want to be a writer, I need to do the same for my readers.

Try some of these characters: Tom Sawyer, Indiana Jones, Hercule Poirot, Dracula or Heidi. Those names evoked images in your mind and you were reminded of a scene, a line, or a tidbit involving them. They were believable characters and that means you remembered them.

You need more than physical features for a character, to wit: eye and hair color, height, weight, skin tone and texture, sex, species, scars, likes and dislikes, ad nauseam.

Characters need reality and emotion. Each person has weaknesses and strengths. Lock those down in your character, bring them to the reader's attention but remember these can and should change as your story progresses. Weaknesses such as a fear should be overcome or at least challenged. The reader needs to see emotions such as anger and aggression. Donít just describe them, show them.

She angrily moved across the room.

She stomped across the room with fists tightly clenched.

The first sentence is bland while the second really brings out the image.

Think of it this way Ė If your character was raised in a nunnery, she shouldn't be shifting her hip to one side, placing her hand on it, chewing and snapping some gum, fluffing her hair and nasally quipping a line like a sitcom or reality TV character.

If the character has a 'nunnery upbringing' one would visualize a 'nice' girl with appropriate attire, manners and actions; not some desperate New Jersey housewife. If this character has fallen from grace, you need to show the transition from being a good girl.

Remember, show, don't tell. Develop your character. Show your character's details within the story but not as check-off list. Include them within the action of the tale. Which of the following two character do you enjoy?

Bob stood five foot, ten inches tall unless his hair was disheveled, then he stood almost five foot, eleven inches. He had blue eyes, blond hair and enjoyed sports. His wife's name is Henrietta and they played tennis today. He kissed and hugged her.

Bobby sprinted across the tennis court, leaping the net to join his wife, Henrietta. It had been an energetic game today, his blue eyes sparkled and she reached up to tousle his blond hair since he towered over her. Being five foot, ten inches tall, he leaned down and kissed the top of her head as he pulled her closer in a hug.

Each of the above examples used the same basic information. Which do I prefer? I think Bobby sounds like a lot of fun. Sorry, but Bob reads like an accounting ledger and is about as exciting, too.

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Scott Bury
Great tips and great illustrations, as always. Thanks!

Diane Rapp
I enjoy reading your blog, especially the sample comparisons. I live with my characters in my dreams. Before I go to sleep each night, I focus on one character, see them walk, hear them talk, and feel what they feel. When I'm ready to introduce the character into the story, they are real to me and nearly jump into the computer. Unfortunately, this means they sometimes take over and force me into a different direction than planned. That can be fun.

Bob Nailor
LOL. I used to take the train to work when I lived near D.C. and in the morning, I'd read a small segment of what I was working on and then sleep for the next 40-45 min until we arrived at Union Station in D.C. Many times I dreamed the next section/segment of the story into existence or perhaps fixed a problem with the story causing me issues. Yeah, I got to know my characters on a 24/7.

Rebekah Lyn
I love the comparisons you provide in your posts. Creating great characters is part of the fun of writing for me. The more they develop the more they seem like my friends.

Tara Fairfield
Good, sound advice as always!

Tara Fairfield
Good, sound advice as always!

James Prescott
Great stuff as ever Bob!