Tuesday, June 25, 2013

GUEST POST: Making Characters Believable

Need some help pinning down your characters? This guest post from author, Marie Lavender, will help!

Photo by: themonnie, courtesy of Flickr

So, you have this story in your head.  You have to get it down on paper (or type it…whatever works for you).  So, you do.  You have a pretty good idea of where it’s going.  You can see the arc of the story, how it all comes together.  You have a good main character for it too. 
But, how do you make that character someone readers will love, or at least like?  There are plenty of different kinds of characters out there…some we love, some we love to hate.  But somehow, the protagonist is usually someone we want to root for.  Right?  But, why is that?  Why do writers have the innate ability to make their heroes lovable and their villains worthy of hating?

I have two rules, and I think they might help you.  One is pretty simple, but it can get complicated.  Know your character.  This is a blanket statement, and it might be a little repetitive for some.  Know your main character like you know yourself, or like you know your best friend.  You need to know their motivations, their deepest fears, their secrets.  Know their background – what kind of family they came from, what their relationship with their family is.  You have to know this character so well that if someone quizzed you randomly, you could answer off the bat.

So, how do you get to know your character?  By writing, of course!  Some of those characteristics will come out in the writing.  Some you’ll have to dig for.  Some you won’t even use, but it’s nice to know anyway.  You may want to do a character worksheet.  This is where you describe your character completely: name, age, race, physical traits, anything that makes the characters stand out from the next person.  Then, you want to dig deep into the basic motivations of the character.  What do they really want in life?  How will they go about getting it?  What is really important to them?  For my current projects, I’m using a questionnaire that I will provide you with for your own characters.  And you can add your own questions, or delete the ones that aren’t applicable.  I find this kind of worksheet usually helps.

Character Profile

1.      Name:

2.      Age:

3.      General physical description:

4.      Hometown:

5.      Type of home/ neighborhood:

6.      Relationship status:

7.      Current family:

8.      Family background (parents, previous marriages, etc.):

9.      Friends:

10.  Other close relationships:

11.  Relationship with men:

12.  Relationship with women:

13.  Job:

14.  Dress style:

15.  Religion:

16.  Attitude to religion:

17.  Favorite pastimes:

18.  Hobbies:

19.  Favorite sports:

20.  Favorite foods:

21.  Strongest positive personality trait:

22.  Strongest negative personality trait:

23.  Sense of humor:

24.  Temper:

25.  Consideration for others:

26.  How other people see him/her:

27.  Opinion of him/herself:

28.  Other traits, especially those to be brought out in story:

29.  Ambitions:

30.  Philosophy of life:

31.  Most important thing to know about this character:

32.  Will readers like or dislike this character, and why?

You can also dig even deeper with other questions.

  1. If your character has a job, is he or she good at it? Does he or she like it?
  2. What are your character's bad habits?
  3. If you asked about his or her greatest dream, what would your character tell you?
  4. What's a secret dream that he or she wouldn't tell you about?
  5. What kind of person does your character wish he or she could be? What is stopping him r her?
  6. What is your character afraid of? What keeps him or her up at night?
  7. What does your character think is his or her worst quality?
  8. What do other people think your character's worst quality is?
  9. What is a talent your character thinks he or she has but is very wrong about?
  10. What did his or her childhood home look like?
  11. Who was his or her first love?
  12. What's the most terrible thing that ever happened to him/her?
  13. What was his/her dream growing up? Did he/she achieve this dream? If so, in what ways was it not what the character expected? If your character never achieved the dream, why not?
  14. In what situation would your character become violent?
  15. In what situation would your character act heroic?
Of course, this really helps.  It won’t answer everything, but it definitely helps you fill out some things about the character.

Another tool that helps is to write journal entries from the perspective of the character.  For example, such and such thing happened today (and it can be an event in your story) and this is why I’m so angry about it or happy.  You can also write letters from your character to another person (or character), using the same technique.

What I learned in Creative Writing classes was to make sure your character has consistent inconsistencies.  What’s that?  Well, that just means that sometimes your character might be a little contradictory.  Let’s say a character has a major fear of heights, but their greatest ambition is to fly.  Do they ever take the plunge and try it anyway?  Do they overcome that fear?  Or maybe your character considers herself a social butterfly on the phone, and yet she’s really agoraphobic.  Well, that would make an odd combination, right? 

And here’s where my second rule comes in.  Make your character human, capable of making mistakes.  No one wants to read about someone totally perfect.  Everyone is human.  Every one of us has made a mistake, whether small or large.  And we’ve all dealt with regret.  So, maybe your character should make a mistake too.  Maybe it’s an error in judgment.  They trusted someone they shouldn’t have.  They hurt someone they care about, and they regret it.  It can be smaller than that too.  But, make your character utterly and lovably human, and readers will love him or her too.

Any of these things can make a character believable.  What will you use to make your character come alive on the page?


Guest Blogger Bio

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats.  She has been writing for over twenty years.  She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands.

At the tender age of nine, she began writing stories.  Her imagination fueled a lot of her early child’s play.  Even growing up, she entered  writing contests and received a certificate for achieving the second round in one.  She majored in Creative Writing in college because that was all she ever wanted – to be a writer.  While there, she published two works in a university publication, and was a copy editor on the staff of an online student journal.  After graduating from college, she sought out her dream to publish a book.

Since then, Marie has published sixteen books.  Marie Lavender’s real love is writing romances, but she has also written mysteries, literary fiction and dabbled a little in paranormal stories.  Most of her works have a romantic element involved in them.  Upon Your Return is her first historical romance novel.  Feel free to visit her website at
http://marielavender.webs.com/ for further information about her books and her life.  Marie is also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

A list of her books and pen names are as follows:

Marie Lavender:  Upon Your Return

Erica Sutherhome:  Hard to GetMemoriesA Hint of ScandalWithout YouStrange HeatTerror in the NightHauntedPursuitPerfect GameA Touch of DawnRansom

Kathryn Layne:  A Misplaced Life

Heather Crouse:  Express CafĂ© and Other RamblingsRamblings, Musings and Other ThingsSoulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things 









  1. Amazing blog and glad to read this. I hope it helps other writers.

  2. Though not a fiction writer, I see how the information you've shared can be greatly helpful in one's development of characters.


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