Think of Scarlett O’ Hara from Gone With The Wind or Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. They never ever lived and they’ll never die. Yet Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee made their characters so believable they became immortal.
In our special featured series on building fictional characters we are building a reference so you can create characters who think, love, hope, cry, feel pain and even inflict pain.
As an aspiring author or a published novelist you are always working towards the process of building convincing characters for your stories and novels and here we look at three great reads - Marc McCutcheon's Building Believable Characters, Making Faces by 8Fish and Rachel Ballon's Breathing Life Into Your Characters.
Building Believable Characters
Marc McCutcheon, in his book Building Believable Characters, starts by conducting an inspiring and informative roundtable where six novelists reveal their approaches to characterisation.
Next, he provides a character questionnaire more detailed than the nosiest survey where you can flesh out the fictional people in your novels and stories.
The best part is still to come and this is where you really start getting to the nitty gritty of your characters with Marc’s thesaurus of human characteristics, both physical and psychological. He’s build this index in such a way that you can fit the two together artfully so your characters can climb off the pages.
You’ll learn how to describe the complexion of your characters from their eye shape and facial features to their hair and hairline right to their body type and even their voice and tone. You may want to give your antagonist a low slug chest or jutting cones. Who knows!
But you won’t and don’t stop there. With their facial features comes expressions of anger, happiness, surprise, pain, guilt, arrogance and don’t forget lust. Will their face flush or will they sniff their glass like a connoisseur.
Maybe they’ll walk around with a wounded look in their eyes. With each expression Marc arms you with body languages reactions. What more could you want?
Along with dressing them, you need to consider giving them a certain style – or none for that matter. Their style will determine how their dress and what they dress in whether it be old tracky pants and sweaters, fitted jackets and suits and don them with hats, shoes and maybe glasses that match their clothing. For example will they wear slinky low cut dresses or corduroys or cargos.
Then you’ll get cracking on their personality, give them vices and ailments or hobbies and sports and decide if they have an occupation that could give you added plot points and even decide if they have memberships of a club or association, such as a mountaineering club. And will a condition such as the episodic harsh breathing of asthma speed along your story plot? Someone who belongs to a mountaineering club yet suffers from asthma? Interesting!
You’ll need to spice up those little details that make or break a character like giving them a language or speech drawl.
Whatever you do with building your own believable characters, if you’re determined to be a published novelist [like me] you need this book on your writing reference book shelf, right beside your writing chair, so you can dive in and out as you please. Ideally you’ll spend lots of time with your nose in Marc’s thesaurus but it is the kind of book you can get in and out of as quickly or slowly as you see fit.
Buy Making Faces Now!
Whether you plan to create cartoon characters or give your fictional people funny expressions you may want to consider 8Fish’s Making Faces, which teaches artists and illustrators how to draw expressions for cartoons and comics.
But don’t and I mean don’t be put off by this description. Take one quick peek inside this book and you’ll find loads of great resources for creating your characters. While the guys at 8Fish may show you how to draw heads, mouths, noses and eyes and how they change when your character moves, you’ll find lots of inspiration for how your character could act and react with different emotions. For example you may want to create a character who is cross-eyed with a nose that takes over their face.
Nothing wrong with that.
The guys show you how to do this and how to make your character express themselves. For example, if you have a flirty character, you need to know that one eyebrow will arch higher than the other. Their mouth will more than likely be closed and curve slightly upward as they offer another character a sly smile. They may try biting an earlobe [not their own of course!] and whisper sweet-nothings in their captives ear. All of this is vital information to add to your character data bank.
For your villains they show you the stages of fear, from nervous laughter to dread, terror and horror. They give you scenarios with little skits of storylines to help you determine what you may or may not want to do in your story plot lines and then they move on to the storytelling and how to frame your character and their body language with various examples from superheroes and super-villians to cave girls and space men.
It may not be the most obvious book you’ll grab off the writing reference shelf, but it certainly makes an interesting read for when you are crafting and building fictional characters. I found lots of inspiration and my copy in now marked with lots of red pen and sticky notes sticking out to remind me to come back and create characters from some of the drawings.
Buy Making Faces Now!
No matter the genre, your characters must be realistic and credible in order for your fiction to work. We know that for a hard-core fact. In this series of building believable characters we are determined to arm you with the knowledge and characteristics of human nature.
Rachel Ballon [Phd] helps us with her book, Breathing Life Into Your Characters by giving you human nature but going further and detailing mental health issues and gives you the ability to describe thoughts and feelings based on their backgrounds and psychological abnormalities - about which you more than likely know nothing.
For example how can you describe the feelings of a drug addict if you have never been one? How can you describe being in prison if you have never been to jail? Let’s face it with the internet today, you can do a huge amount of believable research but you still have to convincingly portray characters even if you have never lived in their skin.
Rachel to the rescue!
In Breathing Life Into Your Characters, this professional psychotherapist shows you how to get in touch with thoughts and feelings necessary to truly understand your fictional people.
You’ll learn how to develop psychological profiles and turn archetypes into conflicted characters. Remember no conflict no story! And Rachel offers you various types of conflict, emotional flaws and fatal flaws.
Rachel will even teach you to think like a criminal to convincingly write one. Another permanent place on your writing reference shelf when building believable fictional characters.
Buy Breathing Life Into Your Characters Now!
Every writer and author needs to know all the words that every woman should know and use. So take a peek at Anna Lefler's CHICK-tionary and you'll find more than 450 words no woman can live without.
You may be all over the definitions of 'low lights' or 'ruching' and maybe 'tankini but can you spot a 'Mrs Potato Head' when you see one? Anna lists out must-know words and phrases that you can put right into the mouths of your female fictional characters.
You may want to give them a bad case of 'Basset Knees or you'll send them on a 'Briet' and have her wearing 'Fat Pants'. You could have her really depressed about her cankles or man drought. Are you thinking of cutting your own bangs ... all these bits of small talk and throw-away comments will make your fictional ladies sparkle with personality!
Whatever you do to your fictional females you'll need to get your nose into this book and find out why men and women come from different planets.
Paula Wynne is the founder of Book Hub. She started Book Hub out of a need to market and promote her own fiction. As well as running Book Hub, Paula is an author with several published books.
Paula's Writers' Resource Series features the following books: Pimp My Fiction: How to Write a Novel with The Ultimate List of Creative Writing Books to Create A Plot & Build Character; A~Z Writers’ Character Quirks: A~ Z of Behaviours, Foibles, Habits, Mannerisms & Quirks for Writers’ to Create Fictional and 101 Writers’ Scene Settings: Unique Location Ideas & Sensory Details for Writers’ to Create Vivid Scene.