Make It Real
You’ve made the decision to write a book, and gathered your thoughts. You’ve decided what type of book you’re writing, and given your characters names that fits the picture of them which lives inside your head.
It’s time to start writing—but you’ve still got a little way to go before you begin Chapter One. Characterisation is the cornerstone of your story. Often you’ll be convinced you know how your plot is going to develop, but your cast have other ideas. The more you write, the more input they provide. That’s exactly as it should be. As they become more real to you, your story will become more believable to your readers.
In conventional romance, readers want to identify with the heroine, be impressed by the hero, and believe in the secondary characters. That means giving them all well-rounded personalities. Be careful not to make them all stunning to look at, and good and kind in every way. Giving each of them a few identifying marks or peculiarities. Little flaws in their appearance and nature make them more human.
You could make your heroine the type of person who can’t get their act together until lunchtime—but make sure she has a good reason for her shortcomings. Maybe she can’t sleep at night, so she’s always tired. We all know how that feels! Giving her an interesting reason for her insomnia adds another facet to her character, and your story.
Maybe your hero hates lending books—not because he’s ungenerous, but because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and knows how it feels to have his possessions wrecked by other people. It’s happened in the past, and he’s learned from his mistakes.
It’s handy to log all the physical characteristics of your novel’s cast members on a spreadsheet. That way, there’s no room for continuity errors. Their eyes will stay blue (or grey, or brown) all the way through your story.
Make sure all your characters act consistently, too. If someone has a phobia of air travel, that’s not something that can be forgotten on a whim. You’ll need to put them into a life-or-death situation before you can reasonably send them anywhere on a plane.
A vegan would never eat a meat pie simply because it was dinner time and they were hungry. If you show a character you want us to like cutting up another driver on the motorway, or laughing at someone slipping on ice, that isn’t consistent behaviour.
Getting to know your characters from the inside out is the way to create believable heroes and heroines. One way to do that is to invent a complete backstory for each member of your fictional cast. Sign up for my occasional newsletter by using the contact form here, and I’ll send you my template for creating believable characters.
A satisfying story needs your characters to undergo some sort of transformation during the course of your novel. They should change, or learn something about themselves and life, but make sure it’s believable. A term you’ll often come across is the character arc, which spans the development of a character from the beginning to the end of a book.
If your characterisation is good, situations and conflicts will begin to develop naturally, but whatever you do, don’t let your characters corner you into impossible situations. It’s no defence to think that you can write yourself out of a situation by including the words; ‘she woke up and it was all a dream’. That device has worked well in some classic stories (which I won’t name, in case you haven’t come across them yet. No spoilers here!) but it’s almost impossible to use it these days without leaving your reader feeling that they’ve been cheated.