The accepted view on characters is that you must know them in some detail. Yet many novelists approach their characters in too-lifelike a manner. They don’t understand why no one cares much for this lifelike character.
Writing Tip for Today: You need characters who are believable, not true-to-life. Here’s why:
- Too Good to be True. Readers crave more drama than most of us encounter in daily life. This is one reason why those who write actual people into their fiction often fall short. If you find yourself saying, “But that’s how it actually happened!” think again. Ordinary life is often boring and routine. So are ordinary characters. Readers crave ACTION, high stakes and worthy goals.
- Complex Consistency. Readers want characters who are consistent rather than complex–they need to be sure of that character’s basic personality. Unless you can create a complex character, for instance, you don’t write a character who is shoplifting without a conscience. Novelists must create consistent characters who appear complex through the use of tags, instilled moral values and a worthy goal and opponent of that goal.
- When in Doubt, Exaggerate. Readers also crave larger-than-life or memorable characters. The character becomes an idealized version of the reader, but able to do things the reader couldn’t or wouldn’t. If you exaggerate a character’s moral values, goals and courage, you have a hero/heroine. If you exaggerate physical or emotional traits, most often you have a colorful, quirky or humorous sidekick. Choose carefully the attributes you will exaggerate. Think about the novel’s overall tone. If it’s a laugh-riot, your novel can have more “colorful characters.” If it’s a serious novel, pull back on physical quirks and concentrate on the passionate desires, beliefs and secrets of this character.