Ask the Editor: How to Write Believable Characters
A veteran editor answers your writing questions
May 24, 2019
How I can make my characters more believable? —Daniel B.
Write a detailed résumé for each of your major characters. Let’s say your protagonist is Charlotte. When and where was she born? What was her childhood like? What did she want to be when she grew up? What does she look like? What kind of student was she? What is she most proud of? How does she feel about herself? What makes her happy?
Once you have Charlotte down pat, write a résumé for each of your other main characters. Get to know them. Feel comfortable with them. Understand their motivations, their goals, and what influenced their personality development. You don’t have to include all this information in your novel of course, but it is essential that you understand everything you can about your characters.
The reader also wants to know about your characters’ flaws. Does Charlotte procrastinate too much? Is she afraid of flying? Does she have a somewhat relaxed relationship with the truth? Flaws humanize your characters and make them much more sympathetic.
Evelyn Waugh says, “All fictional characters are flat. A writer can give an illusion of depth by giving an apparently stereoscopic view of a character.”
I say, the more you know about your characters, the more believable they are likely to be.
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.
If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent.
A version of this article appeared in the 05/27/2019 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Ask the Editor