How to Write Believable Characters

So you’ve thought of a brilliant story line, you have your time and setting down to a tee, you have characters and you know how they act, but you don’t know WHY.

Why is the evil one, evil? Why does the hero love the heroine? Why is the sidekick, the sidekick? This can be one of the most frustrating parts of writing – creating original, believable characters, characters the reader can relate to.

Nowadays, a character can’t be evil for evil’s sake. He/She has to have a motive (and it helps if the motive isn’t always money). One way is to imagine you’re interviewing the character. Think of things you might ask a friend to try and get to know them better.

For instance,

What’s your favorite colour?
What do you like to eat?
Where do you spend your free time?

Then move on to more personal questions:

What was your mother like?
Did you have a happy childhood?
Were you poor or rich?

Some of the answers will be irrelevant but will help you gain an insight into how your characters think.

Detail
Let’s take a look at the evil character. You’ve decided he/she was abused by their mother as a child. So when you ask this question,

What was your mother like?

You know what to answer. Here is an example of the WRONG answer:

What was your mother like?
‘My mother was a short woman who beat me.’

There is no detail. Here is a better answer:

What was your mother like?
‘My mother was a short woman, with long black hair and sparkling green eyes. She would hurt us if we were bad to try and make us clean in the eyes of God.’

This is a much better answer, as now not only do you have an idea of what the mother looked like, you also have an idea of why she did what she did. And you now have a better idea of how your character acts.

With your answers you will first have a thumbnail sketch, then it will evolve into a full blown character analysis. It is this that will change your characters from 2D, flat to 3D and full of life.

Try not to make your evil people completely evil, otherwise they will not be human and your reader will lose interest in the plot. After all what is the point of a story where the hero is so good, that he can do no wrong?

You will find that by giving the answers for your characters you will bring them to life, making the story a rich one that people will want to read again and again.

Sarah Aspden has written a large collection of Fanfic works. She is also a published poet.