Writing Believable Characters

Most writers and readers will agree that characters drive good narratives. We need characters that we can relate to and enjoy in order to best experience the story. It is how we most effectively enter into the story.

So when writing, it’s rather important to come up with characters that feel like they could be real people. You want your characters to have diversity; and by diversity, I mean a diversity of ideas and personality. There are a number of ways you can achieve this in your writing.

Base Characters off of Real People

One of the easiest ways to add realism into your story is to write from real life experiences. As the saying goes, “life is stranger than fiction.” I guarantee you know someone in your life who would be the most interesting character in a book. People are weird. Use that.

That being said, depending on how well you know them, you might not want to write them directly into the story. Take some of their characteristics for inspiration, but don’t re-create their personal life events in your fictional narrative. Often when I base characters off of real people, I find them quickly taking on a life of their own and acting in ways that the real person wouldn’t. But the real person inspiration adds a level of depth to the foundation of that character.

Base Them off of Other Characters

Often other fictional characters can offer inspiration as well. Especially if a character is extremely well written. By taking inspiration from a different fictional character, we can learn what makes that character work so well for audiences.

A lot of this is driven by archetypes. There are different character archetypes that work very well. A very common one, especially in Young Adult novels, is the character of the Mentor. The Mentor character is most often an older male who helps guide the protagonist during the first act of the story. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the mentor for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Gandalf is a mentor for Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.

In these cases, the older male is experienced, wise, and easy for the audience to respect. But you can take and archetype and change it up a bit as well. Haymitch is a mentor for Katniss in the Hunger Games, but he is a change from the usual Mentor figure because he is distant and reluctant at first, and he is almost always drunk.

Give Them Flaws

This is absolutely necessary if you want your audience to relate to your character at all. Everyone has flaws. These need to be character flaws, skill flaws, personality flaws, etc. Your character shouldn’t always be right, or make the right choices, or be good at everything they do all the time.

Pick their flaws carefully. Their flaws should help drive the story forward and give them something to overcome or succumb to.

Diversify Their Motives

Your little band of heroes are heading out to save the universe, but it’ll add more to the story if they all have different reasons for their actions. They might be doing it for the sake of pure righteousness, but if the motives are smaller they will be more relatable to the general audience. Heading out on an adventure to save the life of a sister, or get justice for a murdered a father has more emotional weight to it than the “greater good.” Though your character motives can change overtime to be more noble. Audiences like seeing characters grow into heroes.

Utilize Personality Analytical Systems

This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to add depth to characters. Using personality analytical systems, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the Four Temperaments, are incredibly useful when planning out characters. I find it especially helpful in making sure my characters aren’t simply extensions of myself.

I have created a Skillshare class on using Myers-Briggs Personality Types when creating characters. It’s a Premium Class, which means you need a Premium Membership in order to view it. However, for those of you who read my blog, I have a special offer: the first 25 people to use THIS LINK can access my class for free! It’s a short 15 minute class with an interactive project.

 

I hope you found this helpful. What are some of your favorite characters and what about them makes them so enjoyable to you? Share your thoughts below!

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5 Things I Hate in the Romantic Genre

Let it be known that my favorite genres are Science Fiction or Fantasy so I don’t tend to read or watch a lot of pure “Romance.” I enjoy the occasional fluffy chick-flick, or if someone recommends a particular romantic book I might pick it up. However, most romantic stories contain one or more of the following annoying items.

1. The Love Triangle

DEATH TO THE LOVE TRIANGLE! There are so many things I dislike about this. First of all, it’s overdone. Sure, it’s the quickest and easiest way to cause tension in a romantic plot line. But since when is quick and easy romantic? When a love triangle starts to emerge I am sorely tempted to put the book down. I can almost always tell who is going to end up together regardless of the “new” love interest, so there is no real tension and as a result it’s just an annoyance. It’s tension that doesn’t need to be there.

A love triangle also demonstrates a lack of commitment in most cases. If the character can’t decide which attractive dude she loves more, I have to think she doesn’t truly love either of them. Love is a choice! Choose one and stick with it! Fidelity is romantic. Your wishy-washy hormone drama is not.

2. Poor Communication

This one usually starts off as a simple misunderstanding, or a lack of clarification. For example, she might overhear him talking to another woman about her, but mistakenly assume he’s declaring his love for the other woman. Or he tries to set up a date and she gets the wrong time or place and he thinks she’s stood him up. Instead of talking to the romantic interest to clarify intentions, the characters instead wallow in their misunderstanding and their grief. This is especially aggravating because if they would just talk about the situation the whole conflict would be resolved.

3. Lack of Understanding

This is different from the poor communication. This is when the characters talk, but no one hears each other. They don’t understand the needs or point of view of the other. This happens in lots of stories but it’s extra bothersome in the romance genre. A typical example of this would be when the man failed to perform some romantic gesture that the woman assumed should have been obviously needed. Perhaps he forgot flowers on her birthday, or maybe he didn’t notice she was wearing the dress she wore on their first date. Whatever it is, it’s a big deal to her, but he is unaware of it and she is hurt by that.

This happens. It’s life. The issue I have is that she is then angry at him and it’s his fault that there is a problem in their relationship. After all, if he REALLY loved her, he’d know how important it was to her. Right? Real life experience says no. Romantic partners aren’t mind readers. If you really want flowers on your birthday, chances are you’ll need to tell your partner ahead of time that you would like flowers on your birthday. Only then will they know it’s important to you.

4. Immaturity

This  is in some ways a summary of all of these pet-peeves thus far, but I think it warrants its own category. It boils down to the fact that I can’t bring myself to root for a couple if one or more characters lacks basic maturity. If you aren’t going to act like adults, then when that heck are you engaging in a romantic relationship for?

Relationships are hard. If you want any relationship to work, romantic or otherwise, you need to be willing to put work into it. You have to be able to be honest and up-front with yourself and with the other person, otherwise you will just end up hurting yourself and your partner. When characters lack this, especially in romantic relationships, I lose respect for them and it makes the story less enjoyable for me.

5. Over-Romanticizing Physical Intimacy

Okay, I get it. It’s a romance. It’s supposed to be full of fluffy language and warm fuzzy feelings. But there is a line between warm-and-fuzzy and gag-me-with-a-spoon-are-they-friggin-done-yet? I will admit I have a low tolerance for description when it comes to anything more than a kiss. But there are two reasons why I dislike this in stories. The first is it’s just uncomfortable. Most people wouldn’t be able to sit and watch people go at it in real life, but that’s often what it feels like when I encounter certain scenes in books. Not to mention, 98% of time I don’t think the characters should be engaging in the level of physical intimacy that they are in the first place.

The other reason is the language that’s often used. Physical intimacy and sexuality are often described as the most amazing thing ever. And yeah, it’s pretty awesome. But there are ups and downs for both partners. Some days you might not be super into it and that’s healthy. I recently read a story with a romantic sub-plot where all the “romance” could be boiled down to the characters discussing how much they wanted to sleep with each other. (Or them actually sleeping with each other). To a degree, this is normal behavior in romantic relationships. However, in this case it drowned out all other elements of their relationship. This was especially disappointing because the characters had been interesting initially, but I was constantly reminded of how much they wanted to sleep together and it got old fast.

Naturally, there are exceptions to most of these. If these tropes are handled well, the story can still be a good one. But this is a rare achievement and because of this, I tend to steer clear of most pure romantic stories.

Bright- A Netflix Movie Review

From Director David Ayer and Writer Max Landis comes an interesting world set in modern day LA, but with a fantastical twist. The world is set up almost as if Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was part of our actual history. The main character, Daryl Ward, played by Will Smith, and his partner, Nick Jackoby, played by Joel Edgerton, find themselves in a similar situation to Tolkien’s heroes: protecting an item of untold and dangerous power from the corrupt who would misuse it. But instead of the fellowship of nine, this adventure comes to us through the “Buddy Cop” trope, since they are both members of the LAPD. This gives the story a unique and modern twist to a classic fantasy adventure.

My husband and I had been meaning to watch Bright for a while, since my husband is a fan of most Will Smith movies. We were not disappointed.

There are a lot of negative criticisms for Bright, and I disagree with a lot of them. (Which I will discuss more in depth in a moment.) It is by no means a perfect movie, but it was a fun movie.

Perhaps the plot wasn’t the most original, but the characters were well developed and wonderfully performed by their actors. The world that was built for the story, at least to me, felt like it was bigger than the story we were presented with, which created a sense of depth and realism. I finished the movie wanting more, wishing they had delved more into the lore and history hinted at in the film. And I felt that the actual theme of the movie was delivered subtly and not spoon-fed to the audience, which I appreciated.

 

Potential Spoilers Ahead.

 

Those who have seen the movie might be asking, “How can you say that the theme was subtle? The opening credits practically spelled it out: R-A-C-I-S-M.” But I don’t believe racism was the theme; I think it was the setting. The movie wasn’t about racism, but the characters were living and working in a corrupt area, and corruption will breed all sorts of discrimination. No, the theme of this story was about choices, specifically the struggle of Ward to make moral choices in bad situations. It’s a battle between good and evil, and the battle starts in the soul of the individual.

From the very beginning of the movie, Ward is bombarded with choices, and at first, most of them are directly related to his partner, Nick. Ward and Nick don’t completely trust each other due to the racism that permeates their society. At the beginning of the story, Ward was injured while on duty and Nick is clearly hiding something about the assailant. This is problematic because Nick is the only Orc cop in LA and the assailant was also an Orc, leading to the question: where do Nick’s loyalties actually lie?

Because of the setting of racism, Orcs are looked down upon by most of society as no-good troublemakers. Apparently at some point in history, the majority of their race sided with the “Dark Lord” and as a result, thousands of years later, the other races still don’t trust them. So the idea of one being a cop is rather preposterous to everyone, even the other Orcs who see the police as enemies. Naturally, this creates a lot of tension in the police force for both Ward and Nick as everyone sees them as taboo, or tainted.

The pressure put on Ward regarding Nick increases through the first half of the movie. First he’s pressured to find a way to not be partnered with him, then to record Nick’s voice without his knowing, finally, Ward is pressured by other police officers to kill his partner.

It’s the moment when Ward decides to not kill Nick, and instead turn on the corrupt cops, that becomes a major turning point for Ward’s character. It’s actually one of my favorite scenes in the whole film. The emotional weight of the decision was portrayed so well by Will Smith.

Ward still struggles to make the right choices from then on, but he’s committed to the path he is on at that point, and thankfully, it is the moral path. At that point, the mission becomes to keep the magical macguffin, a wand, out of the hands of the corrupt. There are several times when Ward is tempted to give up and let someone less than worthy have the wand to just survive the night, but the difference is now he has sided with Nick. Aside from his earlier secrets, Nick is the most moral character in the whole story. From the point where Ward saves Nick, he then has Nick to help encourage him to make the right moral choices. These choices eventually lead to them indirectly saving the world from the return of the “Dark Lord.”

Another main critique I saw of this movie that I disagreed with was that the world building was vague. However, the world felt very real to me. There was a history to it and magic was mysterious and misunderstood by the common person, making it easy for the audience to relate to the average person and preventing us from having exposition spoon fed to us. As an audience member, I really appreciated that not everything was spelled out. And some things were never said, but were shown.

For example, there was a scene at the beginning where Nick and Ward were driving on patrol. They were driving through an area where a lot of Orcs live. At one point, we see and Orc casually lifting up the front end of a pick-up truck so a small Orc child can retrieve a toy from under it. Shortly after, we see some cops apprehending, for lack of a better word, some other Orcs. We don’t know what they did, but there are roughly four human cops per Orc and they are brutally beating these Orcs into submission. While this in no way makes the scene less uncomfortable, the realization that one Orc is probably about as strong as four average humans makes the reaction of the cops a bit more understandable, even if it’s not any less reprehensible.

Other elements of their history and lore are only vaguely hinted at, leaving me wanting more, but in a good way. It seemed as if their was actually more to the story. The magic system might have seemed vague, but I understood that to be an intentional decision on the part of the writers. Magic was not understood by the common person, and it clearly always came with a cost. It wasn’t a source of unlimited power, nor was it even a Deus ex Machina solution to every problem. There were lots of questions left unanswered at the end of the movie, but in a way, that’s how life is.

There were a few questions I think should have been answered, but it didn’t ruin the story to leave them unanswered. If nothing else, I feel like this movie could easily have a sequel, or become a series of movies that delve further into this world and history.

In the end, I found Bright to be a very enjoyable movie and I’d recommend it to any age-appropriate audience.* I’d give Bright 4 out of 5 stars. Go check it out and see what you think.

 

*Bright can be watched on Netflix. It’s rated TV-MA. There are roughly 1 to 2 F-Bombs in every line, quite a bit of violence, and several scenes with top-less women.

This article can also be found at urban-fantasy.com. Check it out!