It doesn’t really matter how good your story is; how sweeping and epic the setting, or what fantastic twists and turns you have planned, if your characters aren’t engaging and believable, no one will care.
It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. People are engaged with your story because the characters in it make them engaged.
So, how do you make them believable?
Yeah, I know, that was the kick in the ass that I got when I realized it too.
And then it struck me. What I’d written above was in fact the right answer. People don’t really want believable.
The believable most people want is a sort of semi-believability, a weird state where the characters do and say things that are in context with their situation, but not necessarily what a normal person would do. For example, let’s say you’re accused of murder. You’re an innocent person and there’s no evidence to say you did anything, but the police are looking at you anyway. Most people would get a lawyer, and deal with the problem in the legal way.
In a book, the character might try to defend himself in court, or he might escape and go after the real killer. Both of these are believable in themselves, but I can’t see many people actually doing either of them in real life.
Also, very few books keep in mundane, everyday life events. No one wants to read about the main character who has to stop searching for a serial killer because they need to take a leak, or someone who spends several paragraphs lamenting the fact that they’ve forgotten to put the bins out.
Your characters should be believable because your readers believe in them, not because they do real world things. They believe that these characters, the ones that have been in your head for so long, exist in this little pocket universe where your story is real.
And that’s not a very straightforward answer. To make a character interesting, you create not only something that character wants or needs, and something that gets in their way, thereby creating tension. You also give those characters flaws.
I don’t mean stupid flaws that have no basis on the story. If your character is an FBI agent and you’ve given them a dark past where they killed an innocent person and they’re trying to deal with that, it’s probably wise not to give them the inability to walk ten paces without falling over. Clumsy is not a personality trait.
Creating a believable character takes time; it takes a while for them to ferment in your mind, until you know how they’re going to react to the circumstances you’re about to thrust them into.
So, how do you know your characters are believable?
You start writing.
You don’t really know until you put electronic pen to Word document and actually get that character out of your head and notebooks and into something meaningful.
I wrote my first published book, Crimes Against Magic, 3 years ago. I self-published it last April and it’s about to be re-published by 47North. I knew from the second page that the main character, Nate Garrett, a 1600-year-old sorcerer, was believable. And the reason for that was because he was flawed. He was arrogant, smart-assed and morally ambiguous. And I knew that he would be okay.
Anyone writing will be able to do the same. You will know if a character is believable, and if you can’t, as yourself one question. Does the plot fit the character? Because if it doesn’t, if you’re shoehorning your precious into a story that doesn’t fit, it’s not going to work and no one is going to think that’s believable at all.
Steve McHugh lives in Southampton on the south coast of England with his wife and three young daughters. When not writing or spending time with his kids, he enjoys watching movies, reading books and comics, and playing video games.
It’s been almost ten years since Nathan Garrett woke on a cold warehouse floor with nothing but a gun, a sword, and no idea of who he was or how he got there. His only clue … a piece of paper with his name on it. Since then, he’s discovered he’s a powerful sorcerer and has used his abilities to work as a thief for hire. But he’s never stopped hunting for his true identity, and those who erased his memory have never stopped hunting for him. When the barrier holding his past captive begins to crumble, Nathan swears to protect a young girl who is key to his enemy’s plans. But with his enemies closing in, and everyone he cares about becoming a target for their wrath, Nathan is forced to choose between the life he’s built for himself and the one buried deep inside him.Crimes Against Magic is an Urban Fantasy set in modern day London with Historical flashbacks to early fifteenth century France. It's book one of the Hellequin Chronicles, a series about Nathan (Nate) Garrett, a centuries old sorcerer.
a Rafflecopter giveawayThere are some things even a centuries-old sorcerer hesitates to challenge… When Nathan Garret’s friend seeks his help investigating a bloody serial killer, the pattern of horrific crimes leads to a creature of pure malevolence, born of hatred and dark magic. Even with all his powers, Nate fears he may be overmatched. But when evil targets those he cares about and he is confronted by dire threats both old and new, Nate must reveal a secret from his recently remembered past to remind his enemies why they should fear him once more.When Nathan Garret’s friend seeks his help investigating a bloody serial killer, the pattern of horrific crimes leads to a creature of pure malevolence, born of hatred and dark magic. Even with all his powers, Nate fears he may be overmatched. But when evil targets those he cares about and he is confronted by dire threats both old and new, Nate must reveal a secret from his recently remembered past to remind his enemies why they should fear him once more.Born of Hatred, set in modern London with historical flashbacks to America’s Old West, continues the dark urban fantasy of Crimes Against Magic, the acclaimed first book in the gritty and action-packed Hellequin Chronicles.