There are many elements to writing a good story, but one of the most important is having great characters your readers can cheer for, identify with, or even love to hate. At Writer’s Relief, we know the actions, motivations, and choices of your characters will help move the plot forward and keep your audience emotionally invested. But if your characters seem flat, stereotypical, or unbelievable, the story won’t resonate and readers won’t stick around to see what happens next. Here’s how to write believable characters for your story and captivate your readers.
Tips For Writing Believable Characters
Get physical: It’s important to offer physical descriptions of your characters. You don’t need to go deep into detail at first, but give readers a few key points about what the characters look like—which can include what they are wearing—to help differentiate one from the other. When each character has unique physical characteristics, they won’t blend together easily or seem like stock characters. Physical details can also give insight to a character’s history or personality!
You can find inspiration for your characters’ physical characteristics by observing the people around you. Grab a cup of coffee, sit on a park bench, and notice how people are dressed and styled: Are they wearing designer jeans, blue hair, or suspenders and a belt? Is someone limping—and if so, what could be the reason? Watch for body language that you can incorporate into your characters. If you see someone staring at the ground while waiting in a line for coffee, perhaps your meek character does the same thing while waiting to speak to the handsome dragon king.
Have a backstory: The backstory of each character won’t necessarily be written into your story, but it will help improve your writing. Knowing each character’s history, hopes, and wants will allow you to treat them like three-dimensional individuals as you write—rather than cookie-cutter stereotypes. A character who won first place in every spelling bee as a child may be very particular about grammar when writing a letter, even if it’s a ransom note. When you know what motivates a character, you can make them more believable and realistic.
Give each a unique voice: Think about it—does everyone around you speak the same way? Of course not! Beyond accents, different people will use various words, phrases, and cadences of speech. Some people can’t stop talking; others barely utter a few words. Personality shines through in speech and dialogue, so use that to your advantage when building characters. The swashbuckling pirate and the royal-blooded countess in your steamy romance should not sound the same. (Unless he’s the duke in disguise who’s secretly in love with her! But we digress.)
Add some flaws: Real people aren’t perfect—so your characters shouldn’t be either. Even superheroes have flaws and weaknesses! Imperfections make it easier for your readers to identify with your story’s characters. Maybe your character puts ketchup on his eggs, or she constantly forgets her wallet. Quirks and foibles will make your characters more relatable and maybe even a little endearing.
Let them change: People learn and evolve over time. Be sure your characters have the opportunity to change as well. The transformation can be emotional or physical—and it doesn’t always have to be positive! Even if they choose not to change, their inaction will still move the story forward. When your characters aren’t static, they’ll seem more realistic.
Once you make your characters living, breathing individuals, you’ll be ready to set them loose in the world of your story. And that’s when writing gets really interesting!
Question: What is it about your favorite characters that makes them believable?