Writing is one of the few activities where you’re alone… but not really. If you’re a creative writer like me, then you will understand that we live in a world with hundreds of characters racing through our minds. For each new project, we get to decide who our characters will be, what they will look like, and how they will make it through the whirlwind of drama that awaits them. I’m here to tell you that my characters are real (to me), but it’s my job to make them real to you. So let’s look at three ways you can create well-rounded, believable characters that your readers will love.
1. Stop Trying
The nature and development of your characters should seem effortless. Getting to know them should be a gradual process, much like when you first meet someone. Reveal who they are through their actions. Let their dialogue reveal past hurt, fears, and aspirations. Each time a minor character comes into their life, we should learn a different side of them. Show all sides of your character. Every interaction between your characters should propel your story forward, but make sure you incorporate backstory and those little nuances that we as humans can relate to. For instance: nervous habits, self-conscious behaviors, a struggle to do what’s right, fears, their true heart’s desire. You have the whole book to reveal these things. Stop trying to rush this glorious meeting between the reader and the characters. Let them flow naturally.
2. Perfectly Imperfect
Readers love to see how imperfectly perfect your characters are. They should miss the mark, stumble, struggle, and hopefully eventually triumph. Take them on this roller coaster ride of failures and success. Show us how they respond to each. Each conflict should get increasingly difficult to resolve until they are forced to take the very action they’ve been trying to avoid.
3. What’s in a Name?
Unfortunately, I’ve come across several manuscripts where I loved the characters, but absolutely hated their names. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get to know a character and tripping over or being distracted by their name. I’ll put it like this: Have you ever been introduced to someone and his or her name was so complicated that you dared not repeat it for fear of butchering it? If you’re like me, the next time you saw them you steered clear of them because you couldn’t remember or pronounce their name. The same goes for our characters. When readers struggle with names, it creates apprehension and distance. Give each character very different but pronounceable names. If you have an international character, don’t let your reader try to figure it out. Clue us in on how to pronounce it. Here’s a sample dialogue.
“Hi I’m Faranna. It sounds like piranha. But don’t worry. I won’t bite,” the Indian dancer teased.