4 How-to Tips for Making Your Characters Believable
by Paula Boyd
Author of the Award-Winning Jolene Jackson Mystery Series Hot Enough to Kill
Making your characters feel like real people is less complicated than you might think. Here are four tips to remember:
- Get out of your head and open a vein. If you can’t feel the emotion your character is supposed to be experiencing, how are you going to write about it authentically? If you want real emotion on the page—and you do—you have to be able feel it yourself. The more you allow yourself to open up, the better your reader will be able to connect with the characters you create on a meaningful level.
- Don’t speak—talk. In my writing workshops, I’ve found that one of the hardest things for people to do is create natural dialogue. They analyze and rewrite, making sure every word is perfectly written when what they need to do is just make sure it is well said. Precisely written dialogue with rigid attention to following all the rules of grammar and punctuation will come across as stuffy and stilted at best. If you want to define a particular character in that way, fine, just make sure it’s a character trait and not a writing style. Because…one rarely naturally selects and embodies such an ostensibly academic manner with which to convey his thoughts—meaning, most people don’t talk like that. Bottom line: Don’t write scripted lines, have real conversations.
- Use emotionally engaging descriptions. Describing a person’s build, hair color and clothing is fine, but just like with people you meet on the street, knowing their inherent nature is more important. Here’s how I introduce a new character in the book I’m working on now: “A woman with long gray hair, twinkling eyes and an understanding smile stood over by the window, trying to ignore the unfortunate family drama unfolding before her.” We don’t technically know her age or what she’s doing there, but we get the sense that she’s probably a nice person. Much more natural and fun than a paragraph of description about her height, weight and clothing. Here’s a different way of introducing a character: “Frankie glanced up the street toward the warehouse then looked at his watch: 11:58. In two minutes she’d be dead. Maybe she already was.” We have no idea what Frankie looks like or where he is, but we know a whole lot of important stuff about him—and we want to know more.
- Write who you know. To make characters believable, you have to know them as a real people. So, start with someone you know. If you want to develop a wise older woman character, start with your beloved grandmother. You know how she thinks, what her core values are and what she won’t put up with, which gives you natural insight into how a person with those traits would speak and act. Use it as a solid base to work from and then let a character come alive from it that fits your story.
When you create characters that become real to you, they become real to your audience. They become engaged with them and invested in them and they keep wanting more—and so do you.
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Paula Boyd is the author of the award-winning Jolene Jackson Mystery Series. To register for chance to be a character in her next book, visit www.PaulaBoyd.com
Book 1–The 1st Jolene Jackson Mystery
REVISED EDITION–July 19, 2012
Kickapoo, Texas, is the last place Jolene Jackson wants to be, but with her 72-year-old mother’s boyfriend murdered and Mother Dearest locked up because of it, she’s got little choice but to head south and deal with it.
Bullets are flying, chicken’s frying and there’s a lunatic on the loose in the mesquites with a shotgun who’s Hot Enough to Kill.
An excerpt is included in The University of Texas Press’ title, Lone Star Sleuths–An Anthology of Texas Crime Fiction
“Don’t Mess with Texas! You’ll laugh your way from Kickapoo to Redwater Falls and back.” — Linda Huntley Wills, Redbook
“This is a wild ride with thrills, chills and laughs galore. Highly Recommended.” — Editor, I *Love* a Mystery
“…makes for fast, fun summer reading.” — Nancy Cook-Senn, Shawnee Escort
“Anyone who enjoys the works of Janet Evanovich or Joan Hess is going to love Ms. Boyd.” — Toby Bromberg, Romantic Times
“…a terrific mystery, sharply drawn, cleverly plotted, dynamically presented, and pure sleuthing entertainment from first page to last.” — Wisconsin Bookwatch
“The mystery genre has witnessed an abundance of female sleuths, but none quite like Jolene Jackson and her mother, Lucille.” — Argus Observer
5 Stars and 5+ Laughs! Has to be film adapted. Would make a delightful audiobook. ” …a hoot and a half of rollicking good mystery! The best dang novel I’ve read all year!” — Leann Arndt, The Midwest Book Review
“Carl Hiaasen meets Texasville! …a must read for your Sherlock funny bone.” — Judi Clark, Mostly Fiction
“… comedic characters you’ll just love. …a humor you can’t resist. I can’t remember the last time that I read a book as light and refreshing as this.” — Pamela Stone, My Shelf
“This first entry of an apparent series will leave readers loudly laughing at the antics of Jolene and her mother. Hot Enough to Kill is a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships and amatuer sleuthing. Still, the mystery has a character of its own that adds to a wonderful plot. If this tale is any example, Paula Boyd has a long running series that will provide much pleasure to fans.” — Harriet Klausner
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Mystery & Thriller / Women Sleuth
Rating – PG13