10 tips for designing a believable character

This advice will help you sketch out a good guy, bad guy or even an imaginary monster.

So you've decided you want to get started in web comics or another form of storytelling. What makes a good story great? The characters. But how do you create believable characters? Where do you start?

First, start with the basics before you even begin character drawing. Then, work from there. Let's begin.

01. Know your character's backstory, even if your audience doesn't need to know

This is probably the single most important part of creating believable characters. It doesn't matter if you're developing a good guy, bad guy or even an imaginary monster. If you want your characters to jump off the page – or the screen – discover their details.

Strong character development requires more than just deciding hair color, age, height and weight. It's deeper than that. Ask yourself: Where were they born? How was their childhood? What happened to their parents? Do they have any fears? If so, what are they? The more you ask; the more you'll discover; the deeper your character will be.

02. Use a character design sheet

Use a character design sheet

A character sheet is a handy reference tool

One of the ways I deal with data collection for my characters is by using a character design sheet. Not only does this help keep me focused on the most important traits, but it also helps developing my character's backstories.

There are many free character design sheets on the internet. You can use one of those, or create one that works for you.

03. Draw from real-life experiences; but not fully

They say writers should write what they know. That's true, but not entirely.

When developing your characters, drawing on your own personal experience is a great place to start. But don't stop there. Don't make a carbon transfer onto one of your characters based on your Aunt Ethel. Change it up a bit. Give her some new quirks, a new skill, an ex-husband, anything really. Just don't create another Aunt Ethel for your fictional character; not unless she's absolutely perfect, in real life.

Bottom line... you're a creative person: create!

04. Use the internet for research

Use the internet for research

The author researched the police for a recent character

If you're character is not like you, then do your research. I cannot stress this point enough.

For example, I'm working on a novel right now in which one of my characters is a former police officer. I know very little about that line of work. I was a firefighter, but never a police officer. It would be foolish for me to develop my character without first researching police work.

05. Do a little world building

Do a little world building

Create a believable world for your character to inhabit

Another way to create believable characters, is to create a believable world. In fact, sometimes the 'world' is its own character, but that's an entirely different topic all. Note the subliminal message to my editor (how to create a believable world).

The reason creating a world helps is because our fictional characters, like ourselves, are very much influenced by the world around them. Use that to your advantage. Is your character living in a city? The country? How does this impact how she lives? Sometimes, I'll work out location before I even attempt to place characters inside of it.

06. Allow your character to grow and evolve

Let's face it, static characters are not only boring, but they're unrealistic too. Sure, there may be a few people in your 'real life' that don't seem to grow and evolve, but for the most part, people are constantly changing.

When characters change in a story, it allows the story to move forward. Generally speaking, your protagonist needs to face some kind of challenge. In order to overcome this challenge, she'll need grow and evolve. Let her.

07. Give your character a voice

Speaking of which – give your character a voice. Talk with her. Let her tell you what she wants. I know this sounds a bit strange, and I certainly don't recommend you do this in public, but have a conversation with her – out loud.

If having a conversation out loud with your fictional character is a bit too much for you, then have one on paper. Write it out. In fact, sometimes I'll even interview my characters.

08. Whisper in your character's ear; be her inner critic, write her thoughts

Whisper in your character's ear

Be the voice inside your character's head

Nothing drives a character more than that little voice inside their head. Not only do you need to be the voices around your characters, but you also need to be the voice no one can hear.

During the conversations you have with your character, pause ever now and again and think about not only how your character will respond, but why she'll respond that way. What is she hearing inside her head? Did her parents always encourage her dreams or tear them up? Does she hear her ex-husband tell her she's too stupid, too weak, too ugly? Be that voice.

09. Put a face to a name

Put a face to a name

Put a face to your character's name

I'm not sure if other writers do this, but sometimes I'll do a Google image search to 'find my character' so to speak. A lot of times, I'll start with an image and build my character around that image.

With Target Acquired, I had a vague idea of what my main character, Sarah Murphy, was like. But it wasn't until I found her image online that it really hit me. From there, I was able to complete her character sheet and begin working on the story.

10. Have fun and don't try to be perfect

This seems like a no-brainer, but so many people (I won't lie, myself included) get stuck on this 'being perfect' thing.

Pro tip: perfect does not exist.

Your characters don't need to be perfect, nor does your story. Especially, if it's your first draft. Just get the words out of your head and onto the paper (or into the computer). And most importantly, have fun. You'd be amazed at how much better your writing is when you're having fun.

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Tammy Coron is an iOS developer, backend developer, web developer, writer, and illustrator. She blogs at Just Write Code.