Sunday, December 20, 2009


Are your characters believable?

Of late, I've been reading lots--and reading about lots--of different children's fiction. Throw in some of adult reading and nonfiction, assigned writing and many imaginary (and real) protagonists have invaded my mind. While not all are memorable or seem true to their own characterization, many authors succeed in doing both.
Often when constructing a fictional character, we borrow bits and pieces from life. But how frequently do you learn something in real life--someone's romantic difficulties or a high-profile heist--and think to yourself, no one would believe this if it were in a novel?
When developing my stories, I start down one road, sometimes making a flamboyant character, and question whether the reader will believe in her or in course of events. Sometimes I pare down how I might portray a person or an event thinking that by doing so, the reader will trust my fiction more. By doing so, I often find that my readers think the character less believable. Then I read someone else's fiction--a character in an incredible situation. The author has handled it so deftly, that a reader becomes engrossed...and, for pages and pages, believes. That's what I'm striving for.

What about you? When developing your own believable fictional characters, do you stray from your own experiences and embellish elements? Or do you stay close to reality, maybe sticking close to the facts of an event or how people you know would act?

"Happy Holidays!" to all the readers of WOW! Women on Writing. Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. Besides contributing to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.

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Monday, July 20, 2009


Staying True to Your Characters

Recently, my critique group called me out. They basically said, "We don't think your two main characters would act this way. We don't believe it." It was a consensus, and so back to the keyboard I went. I knew they were right--I couldn't put my finger on why things didn't seem to be going well toward the end of my young adult novel; but once they said it, I knew they were right.
How did this happen to my characters--and at the end of my novel? Why was I forcing them to act in unnatural ways just to get my plot going and my novel finished--finally??? It didn't work--I was miserable; they were miserable--well, you get the point.
When I decided to blog about this subject today, I was trying to think of some big universal point I could make about staying true to your characters; but entire books could be written about this subject. So I decided to sum it up like this for now: if your characters are acting "out-of-character," then they need a reason--and a big reason. Think about people you know well--your spouse, mother, best friend, child. You can most likely predict how they will act in a certain situation because you know them well, and you have interacted with them many times.
Your characters should be the same way. You know them well, right? How would they act during an earthquake? How would they act if someone was breaking up with them? Unless something HUGE happened to them first, such as a car accident or other life-changing experience, then they shouldn't act out of character. And you will feel it in your gut when your characters aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing--just like you feel it in your gut when you, yourself, are not acting like you should be.
I am so happy that my characters are now back in line--acting the way they are supposed to be acting. My plot is fixed, and I am on my way to the end of my novel as soon as I find the time to write that ending--ah, but that could be another blog post.
Happy Writing!
Margo Dill
photo by Kristian D.

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