Realistic and Believable Characters

Characters evolve. They might start out with one characteristic, a flaw, a problem, something that will be important to the story. I had a vision of one of my main characters, let’s call him Leo.

Leo should be moody, depressed maybe so that his depression can be the cause of a breakup, or a problem. I didn’t want him to be depressed all the time, but wanted him to go through periods of it, so he could be un-depressed and normal sometimes. I didn’t want him to be bipolar, because I didn’t think I could research that enough to make it seem realistic, and anyway, I didn’t want him manic when he wasn’t down, I just wanted him to have a period of depression once in awhile. Basically a normal guy, but…

Okay, then, Leo gets depressed occasionally. I researched the types of depression, and it can happen, there are disorders like that. He needs another flaw, or quirky thing about him. He sometimes has difficulty talking about certain issues, certainly about his depressed periods, and other things, like, uh, sex. He just doesn’t feel comfortable discussing it. But he wants it, as much as anyone. Let’s throw in another issue. He believes very strongly in his Catholic values, that he would wait until marriage and that marriage is forever. He’s a bit of an unusual character. I’m starting to like him now. And since he’s not all that easy to understand, and he’s not a real straight-forward kind of guy, I’ll bet he could get involved in one huge misunderstanding.

Once he has a few things established about him, I start thinking about things he would do and things he wouldn’t do, things he’d say and things he wouldn’t say. He would think it wrong for, say, politicians to have affairs. If he thought it were funny, joked about it, that wouldn’t really ring true, because he’s just not made that way. And he’d get together with his friends in a bar, and swear a little, and drink beer, though not to excess. He would do these things though, because he’s a normal guy, with a few unordinary traits.

And after thinking about him for a few months, and tweaking him just a bit, until becoming satisfied that he is a believable character, I’m satisfied with him. He becomes a real person to me, it’s as if he lives in my head. So when I write scenes he takes part in, I know how he’ll react, what will make him unhappy, or disgusted, or feel good. And if I write something, and reread it, I might say to myself, “Leo would never say that.” It’s out.

I kind of miss Leo, now that he isn’t around in my head so much. I liked him.

One thought on “Realistic and Believable Characters

  1. I enjoyed reading your analysis of how you developed your characters. It makes sense that you would start with an idea, research possibilities to make the character believable, and finally get to know him/her to know how he/she would react in certain situations. It’s cool how you say “it’s as if he lives in my head.” Sounds really “writerly.”

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