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How To Create Fictional Characters That Are Believable

Clearly, characters are integral to stories both fictional and factual. A narrative is given form and shape by the protagonists and antagonists. In the majority of fictional work these are human beings.

Human beings in books as in life must have character and personality in order to be understood by their observers. Believing in the character requires that they behave in ways that align with their personality.

Some writers make character outlines before they start their novel, and others make them between the first draft and the editing process. But most writers will agree that outlines are needed to flesh out characters and keep the small details consistent.” SOURCE

Great authors have always created excellent characters that can both be understood and believed.

In this post we will describe a method and template through which you can outline your fictional characters before you start writing. As they develop their own stories in the plot and narrative readers will understand them and believe the behaviors they portray as being true.

Each subheading of the personality outlining template bundles facets of the character in question into logical groups which make it easier for you to get to know your characters intimately before you introduce them to your readers.

1) Demographic Qualities

These are objective qualities about your characters. This is perhaps the most obvious grouping of qualities for your characters and includes :

Age and an exact date of birth
Race and ethnicity
Gender
Marital status
Employment status and income
Highest level of education achieved.

These qualities may be explicitly or implicitly revealed during the story. They help the reader understand the character. Complex characters may behave in-congruently to these qualities but in many cases the reader will be expecting that their behavior reflects what is expected from these demographic qualities.

2) Physical Qualities

Under this heading in the template you consider the physical attributes of the character.

How tall are they ? How much do they weigh and does their weight fluctuate ? What do they like eating and drinking ? and what is their body shape and physique ? Do they walk and talk fast, slowly, hesitantly ?

These physical qualities often have a direct impact on how the character behaves in the story and if they behave at great odds with these qualities they will be less Believable to your reader.

3) Heritage Qualities

These qualities reflect what the character has inherited from his upbringing, his environment and forebears.

The three main types of heritage qualities are :

Childhood or early lessons taught by other people. Therefore early formal and informal schooling or its absence will appear in this section.


Customs and rituals followed from an early age. This is where one would define the character’s religious and spiritual beliefs as well as philosophical persuasions.


Traditions the character observes or neglects. In this section the character’s adherence to any traditions such as those that are ethnically or religiously based will be outlined.

Most people have lessons, customs and traditions learn in childhood that they demonstrate for much of the rest of their lives unless and until they consciously choose to change. A few people depending their early life may not have strong attachments to these lessons, customs and traditions.

Your character template must define these attributes in order to give them an innate compass they will either work with or against as the plot develops. Acting contrary to heritage qualities gives characters a raw and rebellious persona that works well for troubled people in the story.

It is also appropriate to include some understanding of the character’s parentage and family tree under this section. Parents play an incredibly important role in defining and shaping behaviors in their children. If you develop the character’s family heritage as a source of behavioral actions those actions will acquire a much more understandable and believable quality.

Friends from a period before the story starts will also feed into the characters heritage qualities by helping them develop a world viewpoint. It is therefore important you know who their friends were and what sort of people those friends were or indeed still are to the character.

4) Personality Qualities

Personality qualities define what makes this character tick in terms of patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Most of your time in creating this character template will be spent in this section as you unravel the mind of the character and psycho-analyse them in minute detail.

The demographic and heritage qualities feed into the personality of the character giving them reasons to act or not act in particular ways under specific conditions. The story your character tells about themselves is written by their personality which in turn is defined by their demographics and heritage.

The situations they face of conflict and resolution are given understandable and believable emotion by the personality the character brings to the events. Your characters will acquire a sympathetic or drive a hostile reaction from your readers based on their personality.

Perfectly agreeable yet distant characters or irascible and lovable rascals are all defined by the personality with which they engage in the events of their narrative.

The reasons they think and feel in particular ways is fundamental to the whole plot of the story. These reasons are best shown rather than explicitly told or revealed in order to engage the reader in the character’s personality development as they transition from one situation and event to the next.

A character’s personal goals, aversions and motivations are best considered under this group of qualities.

Their goals, aversions and motivations will directly affect how they think, feel, behave and act on the events happening in the plot. It is therefore imperative you have a clear understanding of these attributes in order to allow the character to develop fully as they grow in the story through behaviors the reader understands and believes.

This template allows you to draw up fully developed characters, so much so that you know them intimately at the point at which you introduce them into your story. By understanding these aspects of their character, which you probably do not refer to directly or explicitly in the story, you allow them to develop and grow in alignment with their true character. In this way they become believable personalities to your readers.

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