How to Create Believable Characters

Have you ever turned on a movie and experienced the horror of terrible acting? The kind of acting that is so bad, you need to turn the movie off because it's painful to watch?

Could you imagine reading a book with characters that were intended to be different—with varied personalities, backgrounds, reactions to life—but they all react the same exact way? That would be torture. I wouldn't want to spend my time reading a one-manned show, when it was intended for many. Nor would I want to subject my readers to that.

So, how does a writer create believable characters that are different from one another, and act that way? I do this in two steps:

1) I make a character sketch.

Whether I'm basing one of my characters off of someone I used to know, or if there's a character voice in my mind that's screaming to be heard, I bring their voice to life through a list.
I brainstorm a profile on each character that includes: physical characteristics, personality traits, likes and dislikes, hobbies, passions, info about their family and background, and the essence of each character that would make someone want to be friends with the character (or not).

I refer to a character's sketch whenever writing a scene with them in it. This ensures that I  capture their unique voice, instead of dialogue with one voice that seems to be talking to itself. (That would be torturous to read, right?) The last thing any of us want is a rejection letter from a publishing company because our story reeks of Castaway, when it's not intended to. A character sketch is vital to bringing a character to life, and making sure they stay "in character" throughout the story.

2) Spend time with them!
(Yeah, you read that crazy sentence right—let me explain. ;)

You could know of someone, but not really know them. An example would be how people read about a certain actor. They know the actor's favorites, the current events in their lives, where they were last weekend, who they were with, and what they ate for lunch (yeah, the general public aren't stalkers at all). ;) They know the ins and outs of that actor's life from a distance, but if they've never spent time alone with that actor—reading their facial expressions, hearing about their hopes, dreams, fears and worries—they don't know them. The same goes for characters in a story.

You can make up a character sketch—complete with background story, personality traits, likes and dislikes, dreams and desires; but, unless you spend time with that character, you'll only know about them.

So, how do you spend time with a fictional character? (I know I'm sounding a little crazy right now! But trust me—this is legit!)

You interview them.

It looks something like this:
Compile a list of questions about what-if scenarios. Ask them if they've ever been in love. And how it shaped their perception of what love is today. Ask them if they have a worst fear, and how they believe they'd react if that fear ever became a reality. Then ask that character more questions to better understand them.

Take their background information and their personality traits from your character sketch and put yourself in their shoes. Really think about how a person with their background/personality traits etc., would answer the questions asked (not how you would respond). Really listen for their unique voice.

The more I listen to what my character voice is saying, the more I get to know them, and the easier it is to communicate their story to my readers. I find it's easy to write from their perspective—instead of Heather's; which makes the overall book writing process go more smoothly.

3) Put your characters through the ringer!

The story aspect of a book is how the main or supporting characters are affected by the plot, how they react to the events that are plot, and how they change because of those events. As much as the reader roots for the characters to take the easy road, it's not something that can happen in order for the story to be good—or even something a reader would want to waste their time engaging in. Why? It'd be boring! The characters would not be relatable or even genuine. Real people go through stuff, and how we react to the things life throws at us helps develop our character (whether good or bad). Be mean. Be scary. Put your characters through what you'd consider to be Hell. Then show us how they overcome it, and change for the better. Give us reason to root for the characters in your story.

Bottom line? If you have a story and plot in mind, start working on character development. As you've just read, the idea of a character for a story, and bringing a character to life, are two different things.

After you've written out each character sketch, interviewed each character, spent time thinking about life from their point-of-view, and planned out how your going to put your characters through the fire—write your book. Then tell me in the comments how the character development process helped you bring to life believable characters, and turn your story into a Bestseller. :)

Until then—happy writing.



  1. I don't write in the sense of writing books but I do create characters for Roleplay storytelling frequently and this post has opened my eyes to how much I probably don't know my characters.

    I know their stories, I know who they're friends with, who they love or if they love, I could tell you what vegetables they hate but those are basic things. They're not deep. They're things you could Google about a celebrity.

    I'm going to be looking at all of my loves a little bit more intensely using this approach and see how it goes. I'd never thought to interview my characters before.


  2. Hi Brittany! Thanks for stopping by. :) I'm glad this post was helpful to you. I read the tip along my writing journey this year and had never thought of it either. It made so much sense to me though and really helped during the writing process. The more you know your characters, the easier it is to get inside their head.