Four Tips for Crafting Credible Characters

By Catherine Matthews

How well do you know your main characters? Since you’re the author and creator of this colorful cast, that may seem like a trick question, but…spoiler alert! It’s not. The key to creating a story that readers can love is to give them realistic characters they can care about. So let’s go back to question one. Yes, you know what will happen to your characters over the course of the plot…but what makes them believable, relatable, and three dimensional? Consider these tips for creating characters that feel so real, you’ll have readers wanting to invite them over for dinner. 

1.  Solid Backstory = Smooth Writing Process.

Just because your character’s most embarrassing childhood memory or go-to karaoke song may not make it into your final draft doesn’t mean it isn’t information worth writing down. In fact, creating a full and detailed backstory for your characters enables you to push through plot plateaus because when it comes to the inevitable ‘what now?’ your character’s individual traits and expressions, personal history and motivations, will prompt the answer that gets the writing process back on track. 

2.  Invite Your Protagonist to Lunch.

This may sound silly, but think about it: when you go out for lunch with your best friend, what makes them fun to hang out with? When a reader picks up your work, it will be because they want to hang out with your characters—so why not take a moment to leave the plot aside for a second and focus on who your character is when they’re not caught in the ‘beginning-climax-resolution’ story cycle? Knowing your character in a ‘normal’ situation creates a personality independent of the premise and thereby accessible to readers. 

3.  Complete a Dating Profile for Your Characters.

This will prove especially helpful for stories with romantic elements. What makes your character lovable? What is their emotional baggage? What do they look like? Think of dating profiles as a way in to your character’s innermost hopes and desires. Even if you aren’t writing romance, knowing what they want and how they see themselves will help you craft believable motivations to carry the plot. 

4.  Play a Little Party Game.

It’s time for some old-fashioned party banter. What three things would your protagonist take if they found themselves on a deserted island? How long could they last at ‘Never Have I Ever’? Do they prefer ‘Truth’…or are they wild enough for ‘Dare’? Practice writing the answers in your character’s voice to craft interesting, authentic, dialogue. 

Credible characters have consistent patterns of behavior, genuine dialogue, and plausible motivations powerful enough to drive an entire plot. Credible characters elicit genuine emotions, and genuine emotions create memorable reading experiences—the kind that will have readers returning to your work again and again! 

Catherine Matthews is an assistant at Holloway Literary.