Friday, March 15, 2019

Creating Believable Characters on the Page--Tips for Fiction and Memoir Book Writers

I've been struggling with my antagonist. That might sound like a normal situation--antagonists create conflict--but my challenge is less about what he does than how believable he is on the page.

One editor told me:  "He's too much like the other nasty guy."  Another said, "It's just Bad and Badder."  My agent said, "The antagonists need to be as believable as the protagonist."

Darn (or another expletive).  Really, do I have to work as hard for these unpleasant characters as I do for my nice ones?  Yep, maybe more so.  Their actions have to convince a reader, so their motivations must be in place.  They need to be distinguishable from other characters, so they must be described adequately.  Which means I have to know them well.  Double darn.

Here's a short checklist I came up with after all my struggles.  Result: my antagonist is less stereotype, more human, still nasty.

If you're struggling with the bad guys in your story, whether real or imagined, run them through these series of questions and see how they fare.  Then freewrite a backstory, wounding event, and false belief to make them even more real.

1.  Does your antagonist have unique features, gestures, or way of speaking that makes them stand out? Are they clear on the page (physical appearance)?

2.  What's their backstory? What causes them to act this way in the story?  Hint: read this article on wounding events by Michelle Hoover (from Fiction Writers Review) if you don't know.

3.  What's their false belief--the twisted view of the world that makes their actions explainable to readers?  Hint: check out this post about false beliefs.

4.  How might they change from beginning to end of your story?  Hint: a character who doesn't change at all is called "static" and may even be a stereotype.  Show a change, even to worse, and you make them more real to the reader.

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