People are multidimensional, and so should a character in a story be… but that’s hard to do when the writer only has a small ‘section’ of a character’s life with which to work.
So how do you write believable characters, who have a past and a future beyond the novel, and have that full range of character development show in only the pages in your book?
When writing a story, you want to have believable characters – characters who seem whole and have full lives outside of the story you are writing. The best way to do this, is for you, as the author, to know your character inside and out.
You need to know the little things:
What does he like to eat for breakfast?
What’s his favorite color?
Is he a night owl or an early riser?
Where was he born?
How old is he?
Did he grow up with both of his parents, just one – or neither?
Now, here’s the tricky part. Your reader doesn’t need to know all this. In fact, if you tried to give your reader all this information, your book probably wouldn’t be all that great, because it would really just end up being the life story of one character.
So why do you need to know this information if you aren’t going to put it in the book? Because…
We begin to draw conclusions about how people will act and why they act the way they do base on the information we have about them.
With real people in our lives, we do this all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. When we interact with someone, we often have a picture in our mind about how that person is going to relate back to us. We know, from past experience and knowledge about that person, exactly what to expect when we do interact. With a character in a novel you are writing, though, you don’t have that past experience and knowledge. Since characters aren’t real people, meaning they can’t gain life experiences that authors don’t give to them, it becomes your job, as the author, to give the character those life experiences.
So sit down and interview your characters. I’m serious! Talk to them, ask them questions, and listen to their answers. Don’t try to ‘guess’ for them what they would do – ask them and let them lead you to the answers. Make your character a whole person, not just someone on the page that will further your plot. Most novelists know that when in the flow, characters tend to have a mind of their own. When the author lets the novel go and lets the characters play out the plot for them, the writing becomes much more believable.
When you know your characters inside and out – then when the plot twists, you will find yourself writing and saying, “wait a minute, Joe wouldn’t do that… that’s not how he is…” and you’ll catch yourself if you start to write out of character.
Only when you know the characters that well can you write from their perspectives and make a character that will be believable to your reader. We all have a past – our past helps determine who we are and makes up the core of all our experiences and character – and THAT is why we do the things we do now in this present time. Our characters in our novels, unfortunately, do not have a past – and therefore, you and the author have to give them one… whether you write it in your story or not. Their lives simply cannot begin and end only on the pages of your book.
A good writer who has believable characters, ones with which the reader can truly relate, even when they tie up all the loose ends of a story, will leave the reader with that vague feeling of wondering…. “Humm, I wonder what ever becomes of Joe?”