The Need for Believable Characters

The urge to fantasize about believable things, to glamorize, to alienate, to spin familiar things in other ways–is almost irresistible. That’s what writers do best: they borrow from reality and distort it into a fantastical story. Some writers take it to the extreme, alienating things so badly that it is beyond recognition.

There can also be the desire to dumb down serious real-life things until it collapses into goofiness. This is satire. Usually only used for comedy, it is a fatal mistake when mistaken for realism. Satire is supposed to portray things in obviously different ways. Thusly, satire is lost on people who are ignorant of the topic.

Sometimes, however, real life things can be dumbed down to create another picture. Essentially, the writer takes a concept from the world and re-forms it in their image. Certain details and quirks are lost…and it makes the idea seem a bit erratic. Examples follow:

If you know anything about soldiers or sailors, you should know that they are ardent users of profanity. Translation: They swear. A lot. This is just because they live in harsher environments. As such, their bodies become tougher, as well as their demeanor and speech.

Some people, whether oblivious or seeking to create a more child-friendly environment, decide to conceal this element about what it means to be in the military. The writer (or director if it’s a movie) decides to limit the profanity. The army guys grow less believable, less in-touch with reality.

This can happen with a number of things. Maybe some things you just don’t want to write about. I get that. But if one of your characters is a US military operator from the year 2019, you have to make them believable. This means make them skilled. Make them tough. Make them rough. And yes…make them swear. A lot.

This is a more mild example, but make no mistake: readers will notice even something like this. Your job is to present the genuine article. If you present something less-so, your readers are anything but impressed. It shows a lack of imagination. The writer refused to acknowledge the characters for what they were.

Don’t go halfway on anything, either! That’s like the incredibly evil villain be bad only half the time. Once you’ve made a character, you’re committed to that character until they’ve been edited out or killed. You’re committed to portraying that character in the best way you possibly can. The most honest way, that is.

If a character is more refined, then don’t you dare making them break character for a moment and have a swig of coffee with acorns in it. If a character has acorns with their coffee, there has to be a reason. They’re either predisposed towards it, or they’re being forced to. The goal is to stay in character at all times.

Believable characters are the ones that stay consistent; both with themselves and with reality. There should be no qualms about the way your character acts, thinks, or has their little quirks. Rough characters should swear. Cowardly characters should never be brave. People with dark pasts shouldn’t want to talk about them. That sort of thing.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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