—(Originally appeared in Publishers Weekly)—
Compelling characters are central to capturing and keeping the reader invested in your story. In her latest column, BookWorks founder and veteran editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, answers a reader's question about how to create people who come alive on the page.
Any suggestions on how I can make my characters more believable?
Create a Resume For Your Characters
Try this. Write a detailed resume for each of your major characters. Let’s say your protagonist is Charlotte. When and where was she born? What was her childhood like? How did she get along with her parents and siblings if she had any? What did she want to be when she grew up? Describe how she looks. Was she good in school? What scares her? What is she most proud of? How does she feel about herself? What makes her happy?
Once you have Charlotte down pat, write a resume for each of your other main characters. Get to know them. Feel comfortable with them. Understand their motivations, their goals and what influenced their personality development. You don’t have to include all this information in your novel of course, but it is essential that you understand everything you can about each of your players.
Don't Leave Out Their Flaws
The reader also wants to know about your characters’ flaws. Does Charlotte procrastinate too much, for example, or is she afraid of flying or does she have a somewhat relaxed relationship with the truth? Flaws humanize your characters and make them much more sympathetic to the reader.
Evelyn Waugh says, “All fictional characters are flat. A writer can give an illusion of depth by giving an apparently stereoscopic view of a character…”
I say, the more you know about your characters, the more believable they are likely to be.