Interesting thing about being asked to write a blog on somebody else's site: suddenly I'm confronted with the possibility of being ignored by a whole new range of readers. Not like that's going to stop me from expressing my opinion, this time on a topic that every writer struggles with: making characters believable. For some strange reason the link to my guest post on The Bunny Review doesn't want to work, so I'll just copy it here:
How to make characters believable.
(As I write these few words of advice, I wonder if I’m living proof of the old adage, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)
Lots of things characters do in books can be believable, even if they might seem otherwise outlandish, if the writer has put the time into establishing that this is precisely what this character would do in the particular situation. Sometimes writers are so determined to keep their plot moving forward that they forget that the plot is simply what people say and do. They spend a line or two describing the character’s hair, or a little quirk, to distinguish them from the other two-dimensional characters in the book, and then rush into the action. But if the characters are so thinly drawn that they have no real “character” or personality of their own, then the audience will have little at stake in how the plot turns out.
What turns me off, in a book or a movie, is when somebody says or does something that is totally against his own nature, or human nature in general, but only serves to advance the plot. An obvious example is in horror movies where somebody goes down into a dark basement alone to investigate a strange noise when he knows the crazed killer is nearby. The reason the audience is yelling out “don’t go down there” is because nobody in their right mind would do so. Of course it is lots of fun for horror fans, but that’s mostly because everybody knows that it is totally UNBELIEVABLE!
How much more interesting would it be if the character is drawn in such a way that you know he has no choice but to go down in the basement? Then he is being true to his nature, and his horrific fate is that much more poignant, because it is so much more believable. But it takes time and effort, not to mention talent, to draw up a character who would actually want to go down those stairs, instead of just sending him down there because the writer thought it would make for a good splatter scene.
Another aspect of writing realistic characters is that they have more than one side to their personality. They may be kind and loving with one person, and rude and indifferent to others. We all know people like that in the real world. Of course, this is a tricky balancing act again, since you don’t want a smart-aleck like me to complain that the character is not being true to his nature. Once again, the challenge is in writing a character whom the reader knows has different sides to his personality, so that the changes of moods, for example, seem natural, instead of forced. When the reader isn’t jarred by something a character does that just rings false, then you have succeeded.
Nobody said that writing believable characters was going to be easy!