Making your fiction characters credible

22 Jul

I’m reading through the proofs of my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point before Blue Denim Press sends it to print. This time I’m only looking for typos – spelling errors, spacing problems, punctuation snafus, and the like. I’ve done several rewrites at the publisher’s request. Hopefully the characters and their plots in life are consistent and make sense – bearing in mind that these characters often do the unthinkable –murder, sexual assault, cause explosions, perform an indignity to a dead body, even fall in love. But like all characters in fiction or real life, what they do has some meaning and motivation – even if only clear in their minds.

So, how can you make your characters credible?  In a nutshell:

Make your characters three dimensional. There is more to a character than his or her looks and dialogue. A character has feelings, likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies, flaws, strengths, baggage, etc. Your reader must connect to your characters – not necessarily like them. Superficial characters won’t come across as credible people. In my story, “Saving Grace,” (Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, due out fall 2012), the main character Dana Bowman is a private investigator. But she is also divorced and the mother of a seven-year-old son, David who was kidnapped the previous year. Dana has to deal with the repercussions of the kidnapping, including a David who won’t talk but throws tantrums, her own guilt about the kidnapping and not “saving David” from the aftermath. She is also stubborn and can get sarcastic. All this she brings to any missing person she has to find – in this case the eight-year old Grace. So she won’t “do everything right.”

Your characters’ dialogue and actions must be believable within the story’s context and genre. For example, in science fiction or fantasy, what the characters say and do will be based on the story line (think space trips for science fiction or dragons for fantasy).

Their dialogue and actions must be believable based on who they are – what their traits are. For example, a shy character isn’t going to suddenly speak up unless he or she has to change for a reason. A shy mother finally works up the courage to speak up for her child who is autistic and isn’t receiving the necessary support at school. There has to be a trigger point – some event – that forces the mother to overcome her shyness and speak up because she loves her child. Love of her child plus the event will motivate the mother to speak up.

You need to make what could be seen as unbelievable, credible. That means good character development and plot development.

I’ll be covering those in future postings.


Sharon A. Crawford


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