How to Make Your Characters Believable
by Lee Fullbright
Whole books have been written on this subject, and I’ve been assigned just 500 words (or less), so I’ll shave my response to “How do I make characters believable?” down to these three things:
As the CREATOR, know your characters’ relationships with one another.
Know that your characters are only as interesting as what or who they are up against.
And, of course, show readers the way down Story Lane, but don’t tell them too much.
Following is an excerpt of dialogue from a story that follows the relationship of an older man (a teacher and historian) and a younger woman (his student); a relationship that started out less than stellar. It’s a snippet of dialogue (and not the author telling) that reveals the basis of this woman’s dislike for the man (his air of superiority), and the man’s for the woman (she is just so on to him—and he so hates the cold, cold air of exposure). .
Here’s the scene: It’s 1916. The man and woman are standing on a bluff, looking out on a valley almost completely shrouded by dark rain clouds.
And here’s the dialogue the author (who knows her characters, or she couldn’t have shown so much in so few words) employs to illustrate the man and woman’s aversion to each other.
“ ‘What do you see?” Magdalene whispered. “Do you see what I see? Do you see the encroaching savage? Can you feel the rain on your head? Or are you really just like the others? Do you see only what you want to see?”
I longed to tell her she was impertinent. I bit my tongue. Fey was the next good word that came to mind.
“Hear no evil, see no evil,” she murmured. “Isn’t that right? In that one tiny splay of light there, you see a safe and glorious past—nothing more. You see only your precious history, don’t you, Mr. Madsen? No future.”
Worse than trying to bait me, she was now reproaching me—and so of course I wanted to shake her. Instead I delved deeper into my schoolmaster persona, dredging up what I thought were words of comfort, adult words, words that were my job.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Magdalene. War is a million miles away.”
She looked at me hard, and the disgusting thing was I thought I saw pity flash in her pale eyes. She knew I didn’t understand her, or even want to. She knew I was insincere. And that’s what she pitied me for. For being hollow, empty….’ ”
From The Angry Woman Suite
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Genre – Historical / Psychological Mystery
Rating – PG13
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