Writing Believable Characters – 2. The Human Approach


When it comes to writing characters that your readers will care about, the best way to do it is to write someone who you will  care about.

A good way to approach this is to think about your favourite characters:

  • Who will you read about?
    People Watching

    Image by Paul Stevenson via Flickr

  • Who will you watch on TV or in films?
  • What sort of character will you stay with through to the end of a book?

Consider who you characters are and what their main goal is but only briefly. Don’t overdo it or go too deep into the psychology early on because you will often get lost in labels rather than treating your character as an individual.

For example, there’s two ways you could think about your main protagonist. In my story about twins in a maze you could sum up one of character’s motivations as either:

1. Psychology Version – Character has classic twin separation issues. Maze represents the confusion of growing up and forming of new identity separate of twin sister. etc etc etc.

2. Character Version – Character is driven to escape the maze. She is lost and trying to get out and also to learn something. It’s also about…

Although the second version sounds more simple than the first, it’s a better way to start as it keeps you in what I call writer mode or story mode. You are thinking of the character like a person. It’s about what they want, what they feel, what they think and the situation they are in. They may be aware of their psychological issues but it’s unlikely to be what they are thinking about at that particular point in the story. If the story starts with them being attacked by a vampire or participating in a high-speed car chase, the chances are that survival will be their top priority at that time.

People react to circumstances and thinking like this keeps the characters from becoming too one-dimensional.

So when you start writing your characters keep it on a human level. No matter how many fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural or fictional elements you add to the story, think of them as a person with behaviour in that particular situation rather than just `the hero’ or `the villain’.

After all, don’t we all define ourselves as more than just a series of psychological processes? We are much more complex than that and your characters deserve the same level of consideration.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Believable Characters – 2. The Human Approach

  1. Pingback: Character Recipes | Spices & Secret Ingredients | Wrestling the Muse

  2. You bring up some interesting points. Actually, I’ve never thought of character the way you explain it; but it makes sense. I think of my characters as being dynamic, round or flat. A flat character has no internal conflict or doubt. A round character does have internal conflict or doubt; and a dynamic character not only has internal conflict or doubt but also has the capacity to change. Of course, a dynamic character is the most interesting and makes for the most interesting kind of protagonist. Still, your take on character seems absolutely valid. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Character Recipes | Spices & Secret Ingredients | Kim Koning

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