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Bob Nailor

Building A Believable Character

Exactly what is a "Believable Character" and why is it so 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 the person has to be a super-hero or bigger-than-life; but every main character in your story needs to be able to stand on their own merits.

Is a believable character easy to develop? No! It is not easy. 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 their 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; her characters came 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 happenings 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 such as eye and hair color, height, weight, skin tone and texture, sex, species, scars, likes and dislikes, etc. etc. etc. 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 stomped across the room with fists tightly clenched." versus "She angrily moved across the room." The first sentence really brings out the image while the second is rather bland.

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 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. Which character do you enjoy?

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

Bobby sprinted across the tennis court to join his wife, Henrietta. It had been an energetic game today, his blue eyes sparkled and she tousled his blond hair as he towered over her at five foot, ten inches and kissed the top of her head.

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.

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