Are You Creating Believable Characters?

My wife and I just returned from a marvelous vacation in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Lucia. It was a great time, that passed far too quickly, but I had a lot of time to think about the writing projects I have in the works.

I spent a lot of time listening to new conversations around me. It’s something I believe will prove valuable in the coming weeks, as I return to writing, by helping make my characters believable.

Because, and I know I say it a lot, but I also know I can never say it too often … knowing how to create believable characters is vital for any fiction writer.

If you’re not careful, whether it’s the hero, the villain, an orphan, or an unwilling savior, a character can easily become too predictable.

So, how do you prevent this from happening?

Original and Memorable Physical Descriptions
Think of one of fiction’s best-loved characters, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. He has a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. This detail alone sets him apart.

Unique body language and gestures, as well as physical ‘flaws’ or distinguishing markers, such as Harry’s scar, help to create a vivid character readers are easily able to imagine.

What physical attributes should you focus on? Think about how they might suggest certain personality elements.

Describe Eyes Carefully
One of the first things many writers do is focus on a character’s eyes. However, too many beginning writers often let that simple attribute stray into the realm of cliché.

Think about other related characteristics. Does your character have a nervous temperament? If so, he might blink more than most people, which might be far more noticeable than the color of his eyes.

Height and Posture
People often infer things about others based on their height. But don’t merely say the character is tall to make him seem commanding. Compare him to something, to make the image memorable.

Posture is another attribute that can say a lot about a character. Hunched shoulders might suggest anxiety, but this posture could also convey that a person has led a life of labor, which might also be seen in rough, callused hands.

Also, consider contradictions. For example, if an ‘ugly’ character has a seductive voice, this contradiction with reader expectations generates interest, since it creates a sense of unpredictability.

Character Development and Environment
Characters should discover new things about themselves in the course of a story. However, sometimes an unchanging status can also be important. It can be used to convey tragedy and inescapable ‘fate’, should this be the effect you want to achieve.

Give your characters core beliefs that are tested and renewed, or altered. A believable character should be just as changeable (and sometimes contradictory) in outlook and opinion as real people.

How does your character’s environment affect his personality? If, for example, your character lives through a war, does this bring out fear or courage, pro- or anti-war sentiment?

A character might discover an inner strength he never knew existed.

Paying attention to lifelike character development also will help you set individuals apart. While some characters triumph over adversity, others fail. It’s a fact of life.

Make Fictional Voices Real
Finally, if you want your characters to feel real, they should talk like real people, so make their dialogue mimic real speech.

Make sure your characters’ styles of speech fit their backstories. If a character has a troubled past, for example, think how this might have affected the way they express themselves.

Think also about colloquialisms (slang) specific to the character’s age group, location and image. If a character swears frequently, is he angry? Or simply expressive and indifferent to social taboos?

Think about what the specific words a character uses suggests about him. To create individual, distinctive voices, create a checklist you can go through for each character.

Ask yourself:
1. What is your character’s social status?
2. What is your character’s education level?
3. Is he privileged/underprivileged in relation to other characters?
4. How does he talk to other characters as a result?
5. What does this say about his personality?
6. How old is your character? Does he speak typically for his age, or are there details that convey something out of the ordinary about him (for example, a young character who uses bigger words than normal for his age group may seem precocious).

Including this variety of personality type and language in your story will help to convince your readers your fictional world is just as vivid, varied and interesting as their own, and who knows what kind of new, excited readership that can bring?

I’m willing to find out. Are you?

* * * * *

My novel “Blood Lake” was a Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner and a ForeWord Indie Finalist. It was also named a 2018 Book-of-the-Year Finalist by TopShelf Magazine.

* * * * *

Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;


You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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3 Responses to “Are You Creating Believable Characters?”

  1. Ron Herron Says:

    Thanks. I’m glad I can help, Bob.


  2. Motor City Bob Says:

    Thank you, Ron, for your numerous suggestions. I always appreciate your helpful ideas from your own writing experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

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