I hope you’re all having a productive June so far! For me, it’s been a slow and steady grind while I try and fit my writing in with my plans this month and I think I’m just about keeping on top of them…
Having recently had a short but amazing trip to Verona (the home of Romeo and Juliet), I’ve returned with a renewed vigour for writing: the architecture, the streets, the atmosphere, the people, and well, just about everything about it has inspired many ideas in my little head that I’m excited to get stuck into.
This month in general, I’ve been focusing on adding more depth to my characters and making them feel like more realistic human beings. Here are some of the exercises that have helped me create characters that feel more believable:
1. Ask your character
Humans are pretty complex creatures, so having a bullet point list of traits might feel a bit forced from a reader’s perspective.
If you have a character already in mind, you already have a good foundation on which to add layers; sometimes however, there are aspects of them that need you to dig a little deeper to help you really grasp who they are.
So if there are parts to your character you still haven’t quite fleshed out, it sometimes helps to just ask them. I’m not telling you to sit alone in your room and talk out loud to an imaginary person, or in a coffee shop full of people (although who am I to stop you?), but visualising a conversation with your character will help clear away any grey areas you may have about who they are.
There’s a lot you can pick up on by doing this: you get to see their mannerisms, hear their dialect, as well as listen to thoughts and feelings that you might not even touch upon in your story.
Their actions and words in your mind will tell you a lot about how they’ll be throughout the story, and this depth of understanding will translate into your writing, which makes this a really useful exercise if you find yourself a little stunted when writing scenes.
2. See the story from your character’s point of view
Have you ever read a book where someone does something so incredibly awe-inspiring, but you have no idea why they did it?
As a reader, you’re able to piece together the information the author has told you about their character, and as a result you come to expect certain behaviours from them.
A character with a terrifying fear of spiders who inexplicably has a pet tarantula, might leave your readers scratching their heads and wondering ‘why?’.
For your characters to be believable, their decisions and actions need to line up with what your readers know to be true about them, and if they don’t, there needs to be a reason why. So if our arachnophobic character with the pet tarantula explains to a friend that his brother was cursed by a witch who turned him into a tarantula, we won’t question why he keeps it.
If you’re finding yourself a little stuck with writing your character scenes, try out this exercise of walking in their shoes. By taking on their traits, their fears, their goals, and everything else you know about them, and walking through your story in their skin you will get to experience it from their point of view, and as a result you’re more likely to see when they’re doing something out of character, making them feel more believable to your readers.
3. Draw from the characters you know
Sometimes the best inspiration is right under your nose. Your life is likely full of different people with different personalities, traits, goals and, well everything you’d expect of humans. They are three dimensional people, and therefore pretty believable (well, some of them, anyway…).
So draw on people you know. Talk to someone with similar qualities to the character you’re writing about, see what you can take away from their answers. Do some people watching, check out other people’s mannerisms, write down what you think you can figure out about them from their movements and expressions. The more you understand people, the better you can write about people.
And you don’t have to limit yourself to real people, but other characters you’ve enjoyed reading about too.
There are probably plenty of characters you’ve read about that you’ve felt connected to as if they were real, so why not pick one and try to figure out what it was that made them feel so real to you.
What did you like about that character? What was it that made them feel like more than just a person on the page? Draw from these thoughts when you’re building on your own characters.
I hope these tips are as useful for you as they have been for me. I’m now at a point where I understand my characters a lot better, and I’ve found it’s made scene writing flow a lot more naturally.
Do you have any tips for writing more believable characters? Comment below if you do!
Have a lovely weekend!