Developing Believable Characters by Linda Lee Williams

You have a great idea for a novel…have even sketched out some details.  Now, you must decide: Who would be best suited to tell this story?  What viewpoints(s) should I use—first person, third person, multiple?  How can I align character and plot?

For me, it’s beneficial to have a clear vision of my main characters—physical descriptions, basic personalities, mannerisms, history, and how they would react in certain situations, given their particular backgrounds.  Before I begin a novel, I compile “dossiers” for my protagonists and antagonists.  Gathering data about my characters helps clarify who they are and how they will fit into the story.  Next, I try to match names to those personas.  To aid me in my selection, I rely upon those renowned books with over 40,000 baby names and their origins.  Sometimes, the underlying meaning of a name directs my preference and defines a character.

Often, conjuring up imaginary people proves challenging.  For further guidance, I “turn to the stars” and the twelve signs of the Zodiac.  From this wealth of astrological information, I borrow all of the traits I need for my cast of characters and even come up with their birthdays.  Also, researching a character’s profession, condition, or situation can offer additional enlightenment.  Once you invent your characters, they will most likely take on lives of their own—but it won’t be by accident.  You will have nurtured their existence.

In order to create sympathetic characters—ones that readers care about and can identify with—writers need to be sympathetic themselves.  As a rule, heroes and heroines should be likable, despite their shortcomings.  With villains, the dis-likable factor depends upon the story and who or what the antagonists are.  Fictional entities must be as real to us as our family and friends, and just as genuine.  If our characters remain true to their natures, then our plot will stay on course…and our protagonists will burrow into readers’ hearts, the same way they did ours.

Although this is my blueprint for developing believable characters, other authors utilize different techniques.  I appreciate the opportunity to share mine!

Guest Blogger Bio

Linda Lee Williams lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Tim—the artist that illustrated her book covers—and their sweet dog, Bart.  Over the years she’s taught creative writing classes, hosted a writer’s group, and written a variety of paranormal romances.  To date, she has two published novels: Elsewhere and Old Town Nights.

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  1. Very good advice. In my own writing, I picture my main character as if he or she is the actor when the book's movie comes out. :-}

  2. Linda, I agree so much with your techniques of developing your novel characters, and indeed I generally follow much the same process myself. However, there's just one thing I choose to do rather differently to make them a little more true to life. I feel it's quite realistic to give one's main protagonist/s believable faults. After all, most of us do have them, even if they're only very small character flaws... to my mind they show they are all the more rounded sort of characters for having and portraying these faults in various ways. Then of course during the process of the book they are able to go on a kind of journey of self discovery within the plot's twists and turns. I find, like real people they eventually learn so much about themselves and how to inter act more naturally (warts and all) with others within the storyline... just as people do in real life. Would like to know what you think about this character development?


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