by: Steve McHugh
It doesn’t really matter how good your story is; how sweeping and epic the setting, or what fantastic twists and turns you have planned, if your characters aren’t engaging and believable, no one will care.
It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. People are engaged with your story because the characters in it make them engaged.
So, how do you make them believable?
Yeah, I know, that was the kick in the ass that I got when I realized it too.
And then it struck me. What I’d written above was in fact the right answer. People don’t really want believable.
The believable most people want is a sort of semi-believability, a weird state where the characters do and say things that are in context with their situation, but not necessarily what a normal person would do. For example, let’s say you’re accused of murder. You’re an innocent person and there’s no evidence to say you did anything, but the police are looking at you anyway. Most people would get a lawyer, and deal with the problem in the legal way.
In a book, the character might try to defend himself in court, or he might escape and go after the real killer. Both of these are believable in themselves, but I can’t see many people actually doing either of them in real life.
Also, very few books keep in mundane, everyday life events. No one wants to read about the main character who has to stop searching for a serial killer because they need to take a leak, or someone who spends several paragraphs lamenting the fact that they’ve forgotten to put the bins out.
Your characters should be believable because your readers believe in them, not because they do real world things. They believe that these characters, the ones that have been in your head for so long, exist in this little pocket universe where your story is real.
And that’s not a very straightforward answer. To make a character interesting, you create not only something that character wants or needs, and something that gets in their way, thereby creating tension. You also give those characters flaws.
I don’t mean stupid flaws that have no basis on the story. If your character is an FBI agent and you’ve given them a dark past where they killed an innocent person and they’re trying to deal with that, it’s probably wise not to give them the inability to walk ten paces without falling over. Clumsy is not a personality trait.
Creating a believable character takes time; it takes a while for them to ferment in your mind, until you know how they’re going to react to the circumstances you’re about to thrust them into.
So, how do you know your characters are believable?
You start writing.
You don’t really know until you put electronic pen to Word document and actually get that character out of your head and notebooks and into something meaningful.
I just had my 3rd book, With Silent Screams published and I knew from the second page of book 1 that the main character, Nate Garrett, a 1600-year-old sorcerer, was believable. And the reason for that was because he was flawed. He was arrogant, smart-assed and morally ambiguous. And I knew that he would be okay.
Anyone writing will be able to do the same. You will know if a character is believable, and if you can’t, as yourself one question. Does the plot fit the character? Because if it doesn’t, if you’re shoehorning your precious into a story that doesn’t fit, it’s not going to work and no one is going to think that’s believable at all.
Steve’s been writing from an early age, his first completed story was done in an English lesson. Unfortunately, after the teacher read it, he had to have a chat with the head of the year about the violent content and bad language. The follow up ‘One boy and his frog’ was less concerning to his teachers and got him an A.
It wasn’t for another decade that he would start work on a full-length novel that was publishable, the results of which was the action-packed Urban Fantasy, Crimes Against Magic.
Steve McHugh lives in Southampton on the south coast of England with his wife and three young daughters. When not writing or spending time with his kids, he enjoys watching movies, reading books and comics, and playing video games.
His name is Nathan Garrett, but he’s also known as Hellequin. And murdering one of his friends and trying to blow him up is a good way to get this centuries-old sorcerer’s full attention…
An old friend’s dead body, a cryptic note, and an explosion that almost costs him his own life propel Nate headfirst into a mystery involving a new threat from an old foe. Now he must piece together the connections between a grisly series of tattooed murder victims, an imprisoned madman, a mysterious alchemist, and a deranged plot to usurp the throne of the hidden realm of Shadow Falls, rival to the power of Avalon.
Can Nate avert the coming slaughter, or will he become the latest to fall in this clandestine war? With the story careening between modern-day New York and Ontario and 1977 Maine, With Silent Screams continues the gritty and action-packed mix of urban fantasy and ancient mythology that mark Steve McHugh’s popular Hellequin Chronicles.
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