Creating Believable Characters in Fiction

There are several ways to establish a connection with the reader to ensure they will read on, the easiest is by having interesting, believable characters.

When writing fiction, creating believable characters is one of the best things that you can do to ensure that your story will be read and treasured. A great fictional character can overcome many things, like a weak plot line or touchy subject matters. How do you create believable characters? The keys to creating believable characters are commonality, originality, dichotomy, desire, and peculiarity.

First, when writing fiction, give your characters some sort of attribute that will allow the reader to identify with them. For a story targeted to housewives and mothers, give the character a little obsession over her thighs. For a mystery, give the character something to worry about, like his family, career or health. The key here is commonality.

Now, while you should give a reader some reason to identify with the character, you don’t want to create a character that just screams cookie-cutter either. If writing about a Private Detective, don’t make him tall, dark and scruffy. Do the unexpected. Make him a woman (but avoid the obvious clichés here too) or bound to a wheelchair. Give your character something unanticipated. In Janet Evanovich’s best selling series, her heroine Stephanie Plum is a female bail-bondsmen with little experience or training. The key here is originality.

Lemonade without either the sugar or the lemons would be unpalatable, and so, every believable character needs contrasting elements. Good versus evil, or desires fighting with responsibilities. A conniving, flashy lawyer is boring, until we learn that he doesn’t own a car or lives in a run down neighborhood. A reader would wonder why, and they would continue reading to find out. Dichotomy is the key here.

Give your fictional character desires, something to accomplish, because without something driving the character, a reader won’t want to follow him into the story. Maybe your struggling artist wants to be famous as a way to win a girl. Maybe a harried housewife wants to go back to school for a career and some sanity. Maybe a terminally ill woman wants to live long enough to give birth to her only child. This shouldn’t be confused with plotting. Plotting is what happens in the story and the ambition is what makes your character do certain things throughout the story. The key here is desire.

We all have our quirks—that’s what makes us different and that’s what also makes for interesting and believable characters. The character Adrian Monk (played by Tony Shalhoub on USA Network’s show Monk) is a detective with a whole host of phobias, and viewers love him. Don’t give a character a slew of quirks though, because you would risk turning your reader off. Instead, a few well placed oddities will make your character more fallible and human. Maybe he still drinks Tang by the gallon even as a forty-year-old man. Maybe a woman drives the exact same route to work every day because she believes that to deviate would invite catastrophe. Whatever you give your character, the key here is peculiarity.

If you take care in giving your characters life and breath by using the keys outlined—commonality, originality, dichotomy, desire, and peculiarity—you will be closer to creating a story that someone will read and characters that they will believe and identify with.

Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint








 Getting into Character


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