While there are many articles about creating believable characters, it's an important topic and reminders are always in order since your characters are a crucial aspect of your story.
So, which is your protagonist?
1. Is your protagonist flat...lacks any type of emotion and action. Like the simple and safe kiddy rides at a children's amusement park...the carousel horse that goes round and round, but does nothing else? Then you have a one- dimensional character on your hands.
2. Is your protagonist a little bumpy...he has some quirks, life and emotion, but no real depth of character or history. Like the carousel horse that goes round and round and up and down at a steady easy pace? Then you have a two-dimensional character struggling to break into the world of believability.
3. Is your protagonist a full-blown amusement park...a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, knowledge, emotion, character, quirks...life and history? Now you have it—you have a believable three-dimensional character that is strong enough to bring your story through to the end.
Now the question is: how do you create a wonderful, believable life-like three-dimensional character?
There are a number of methods you can use that will help create a believable character, here are two:
1. Create a character sheet or use an index card before you begin.
On your sheet, list all the characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, physical attributes, artistic attributes...you get the idea. Keep this sheet handy as you're writing your story. If you tell the reader Pete has blonde hair in the beginning of the story, and then you describe it as black, unless he dyed his hair as part of the storyline, stay true to the character. Readers pick up on errors very quickly.
The more detail you add to your character sheet the easier it will be to know what your protagonist will do in any given circumstance. This will take the element of wondering out of your writing process and save time...Pete finds a bag of money next to his neighbor's car. Hmm . . . will he keep it or try to find out if it's his neighbor's? Oh, wait a minute, on your character sheet you wrote he's an honest guy! Simple.
2. Add characteristics and attributes to your protagonist as you write your story.
Write your protagonist's characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, and so on, on a character sheet as your story evolves.
There are some writers who use different methods to create a story. Maybe you're using the 'seat-of-the-pants-method' and your character evolves as your story does. With this method, you want to be sure to note each new development in your protagonist's character or being.
Let's go back to Pete again. Pete scratches a car as with his bicycle. Does he leave a note on the car he damaged? Does he quickly leave the scene? Does he just ignore the incident and goes about his business?
While he's usually honest, he could have a moment of weakness? Maybe he's worried about the consequences.
Whichever one of these actions he chooses will establish another element to his character - be sure to make note of it.
No matter what process you use, remember to add life-like qualities to your character. Readers need to develop a relationship with the protagonist. If they feel Pete is three dimensional and they are drawn to him, they'll be sure to read to the end of your book.
Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children's ghostwriter. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. Get monthly must-know writing and marketing tips with The Writing World newsletter.
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