How To Create Believable Characters

by , Tuesday November 4, 2014
How To Create Believable Characters

Meet Mary Sue and Gary Stu

 

Ever heard about the dreaded ‘Mary Sue’ or ‘Gary Stu’? They’re a character who’s seen as too perfect to be interesting or relatable: a poorly developed robot who’s basically a vision of what the author wishes they could be: special, beautiful, popular, accomplished.  They are the worst characters to invite to your story: the ‘cookie-cutter’ people that are so cliché they make your story unbelievable and your readers struggle to engage. A good author knows every character needs a unique personality. Even your minor characters deserve more love than a Mary Sue can give. Here’s how to do it:

 
 
1. Use the 2:1 rule. 
For every couple of positive traits you award your characters, add in a flaw too. Remember that biting nails, being rude or clumsy are not flaws, they’re bad habits at best. Real flaws affect their story. Being shallow, betraying a friend, or even narcissism are all normal traits that will make your character more realistic and will help readers relate to them.
 
 
 
 
2. Do your homework.
Get to know your character. How would he or she react to different situations? Imagine them doing all sorts of different things, some that might come up in your story but also some that don’t. How would they act while waiting for a bus or when they run into an old friend? It might not help the plot but you will understand your character better.
 
 
 
 
3. Use a notebook. 
You’d be surprised how many ideas will pop into your head listening to people on the bus. People-watching will overload you with material to enrich your story. Notice fashion sense and accents, write things down, even stuff you don’t like, and use it to give shade to your good guys.
 
 
 
 
4. Don't overload your reader. 

You need to know your character inside and out, that doesn’t mean that your reader has to. Details are important, but make them count. Unless it is important to the plot, what they’re wearing, what phone they have, and what they had for breakfast doesn’t matter.

 
 
 
 
5. GET REAL

Think about what really happens in life. Conversations take time, if you jump in the car say ‘Hi’ and then immediately pull into the school driveway, you’re timing isn’t realistic. You should also consider this if your character fights or falls. Let your character scrape knees and get marked, physically as well as mentally.

 
 
Still worried you’ve got a Mary Sue in your story? Take the Mary Sue Litmus test here
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