Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Believable Characters Tell Their Own Story

"Good writing..., teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling."
- Stephen King [On Writing]

Characters are a key component of any story. Believable characters make a great story.

In creative writing, character development is such an important part of the process that if not done well, the paper-thin characters in a story can fatally injure a solid plot, flawless grammar and vivid description.

Believable Characters
That said, what's a believable character and how are they developed?

King's On Writing (On Writing by Stephen King (Mass Market Paperback - July 1, 2002))Well, a believable character is one that is perceived by and interacts with the reader just like real people do. This equally applies to anthropomorphized creatures and objects, as well as beings with super-human attributes.

A character becomes believable when it has emotions, performs actions, behaves in a unique manner, communicates, thinks, has habits and does whatever else is in the interest of plot development. Characters come to life when they talk, do things and make decisions.

One of the easiest ways to water down your characters is through what is essentially an important tool in story telling - description.

You see, description is at the heart of narration. It is through description that the story environment is conveyed to the reader. Description in a written story, much unlike in a movie, drama or a TV show, relies on words.

These words, which the omnipresent writer freely controls, can be over-used in describing aspects of the character which would be better served if the characters themselves portrayed them through word and deed. Following is an example to illustrate this:

Portray Character Through Action
If a short story has a character who needs to be portrayed as a quiet and introverted person, the writer needs not tell the reader that David was usually quiet while in the company of his friends, contributing very little to their overall conversations.

A better way of presenting David's character would be to actually have a scene where other participants in the group actively carry out the conversation, while David says very little. He would then opt to take a stroll alone while his friends either played a game of cards or went out to party.

The interactions of characters with other characters, the words they say, the music they play, the movies they watch, their habits... that is what makes characters believable. It also facilitates plot development sans boring wordy prose.

Your thoughts?

Note: Next, we take a look at description in our ongoing creative writing insights.