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Writing Believable Fictional Characters
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The smartest, prettiest, most intellectual or athletic of characters will not help your story if they are not believable. The more important the character is to the story, the more necessary it is that the reader can identify with that character. What will help to make a character believable?
· Consistency. While people are always good in some ways and not so good in others, you will confuse readers if their characteristics change during the story for no good reason. A person is not likely to kick a cat in one scene, and argue for animal rights in the next, for example.
· Honesty. No; I don't mean that only truth-tellers should be allowed on the pages of your book. You may want your character to be a believable liar. I mean honesty in showing that character as a real person, with foibles and strengths.
· The main characters, especially, should have to solve problems without recourse to incredible coincidences. Handsome heroes on magnificent white steeds, picking up the poor damsel in distress, are better in fairy tales. However, sometimes these things even happen in real life - so if you can write it believably, by all means do so. Just beware of relying on these magical devices to carry your story.
· If 'Truth is stranger than Fiction', as the saying goes, then being believable in story-writing may be more constrained than in real-life.
· Change of character. This isn't a contradiction of the first point. This is the 'good reason' referred to. The best stories are those in which the person at the end of the story is no longer the same as at the beginning. He or she has changed as a result of what has happened between the first and last pages.
· If you are a Christian writer, you may find some difficulty in trying to present your character as a real person in a secular market where Christianity can seem other-worldly. While you probably won't want to glorify the ugliness of ungodly characters, you do have to show the person as real. This takes some sensitivity, care and prayer.
The best thing to help you in your development of real characters is insight and observation. What makes you tick? What makes you jealous, angry or sorry for yourself? What makes you happy or sad? These emotions are universal, and while some people (or characters) have them under control better than others, everyone feels them to some degree. The individuality usually comes in how they are expressed, rather than the fact that they occur.
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