Friday, November 14, 2008

Character - Believability (Continued)

I hope everyone is doing well. QueenWriter's lessons are back. Today, we are continuing on with Character Believability. If you need to refresh yourself on the last lesson, please see the archives.

Characters - Believability (Continued)

Another way to explain the importance of the believability of a character is this: let’s say you create a character that is an alcoholic and drug addict and say little else about the character, then he or she suddenly shows up in a three piece business suit without explanation as to why or how, which is the reader going to believe? That he’s a bum or a professional? I venture to say neither. There was no history of the character given, he does not “stand before us with a wonderful clarity.” (45).¹ Who is this character? What does he do? If no details are given, any action this character takes will not be believed by the reader.

1 Garner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. New York: A Knofp: Distributed by Random House, 1984.

Today, I don't want to just see your character, I want to believe in your character. If you don't write as a hobby or profession, that's okay. Make one up; it's fun. This isn't just reserved for published authors or those that write that haven't yet been published; it is for everyone.

Show me what you have. You'd be surprised just how create your mind is if you try it and let it flow.

Starr Reina


David said...

I did this with Det. Nat Adams and most my other key characters in THE 3RD COVENANT. First, I introduce Nat by having his wife, Susan, answer the phone. Then he learns that Father Reirdon was murdered and he's been assigned to the case. She mentions that that was one of the priests he knew. They part with a longing embrace and she partners with him through prayer. I also have him describe the difference between his sandy brown hair and her long black hair. I do a kind of flashback when he arrives at the scene and sees a scar on his arm, a wound he received the night his family died in a fire when he was sleeping over a friend's house across the street. He tried to break in to save them, but was pulled out by a fireman only moments before the kitchen blew up. I keep dishing out pieces of who Nat is until the reader gets a very clear picture of who he is. I think that's also a key. Don't overburden the story with description, but dole it out in pieces, and if possible, use action to give the description. "He ran his fingers through his blond hair and clenched his square jaw as he thought about what had happened," is a way of doing this.

David Brollier

Starr Reina said...


Thank you for your post. I agree with you about intermingling the description of a character within the scene. This is good: "He ran his fingers through his blond hair and clenched his square jaw as he thought about what had happened,"

Additionally, from your description of how you set your characters within the scene show the character Nat is believeable. Good job.

Starr Reina

Anonymous said...


I agree with Starr. If you take a page or even an entire paragraph to do nothing but describe what a person looks like, you can easily bore a reader. When your story is well-written, people want to get to the story. Putting in little pieces at a time like you do, tell the reader things they need to distinguish who's who, but it also allows your story to keep going therefore keeping the reader, reading. Great point you made! Thank you so much.

Terri Ann Armstrong, Author,Editor

DJ said...

I'm always throwing screenwriting style in here because that's what I know. In screenwriting, you have to make the character believable with as little physical description as possible - because it leaves the role potentially open for more actors/actresses to picture themselves in...

So here's a character or two from a script of mine. (the elements in parenthesis are to clarify things that aren't in the original passage, but I thought would help explain more within the partial scene):

Nick, (the restaurant dishwasher) reaches the pantry door. Opens it. He startles DANNY - 20, gift shop cashier and RONALD - 45, assistant manager, as they pull out of a kiss.

NICK- "Oh! Jeez no! I did not want to see that-"

Danny is crisp. He sidles past Nick and returns to the floor with a brisk pace.

Ronald, rumpled from head to toe, betrays who he is with song.

RONALD - "I'm in the mooood for looooove. Simply because you're near me..."

Ronald tweaks Nick's nose. He heads for the back office, passing Craig (sexy cook).

RONALD - [suggestive] "Hello, Craig."

Craig gives a dismissive wave. Ronald stops short of the door, perplexed.

RONALD - "Has anyone seen my clipboard?"

Nick finds it in the pantry. He hands it over.

RONALD - "Thank you, sweetheart... Has anyone seen Paulie?"...

Hopefully, this paints a pretty clear picture of Ronald, and makes him believable. He's gay, not afraid to show it, and he's somewhat unkempt and absent minded. Throughout the script, I have him continually perplexed about whatever's on his clipboard, be it schedules, payroll, etc... He misplaces his keys, starts on one errand before he's distracted into another... And he openly flirts - just for the fun of it. He's careless and carefree, but instead of saying it, I try to show it through his words and actions.

Starr Reina said...


I value your comments here. Whether screenwriter, novel author, unpublished, published or none of the above, all are welcome to comment.

Thank you, DJ. Yes, your character is shown with clarity. He seems like he has a lot of wit, at least that's how I seem him portrayed.


Anonymous said...

Here is my character. I hope it's not a yawner as I do use details to paint a picture. My character is a bookstore owner who just lost her business.

"This girl was an unlikely Venus. She was a Goliath, towering more than six feet tall, with the dark-eyed look of a gypsy. Clad in faded overalls and a Tragically Hip T-shirt, she wore no make-up. Lucky for her that her chocolate brown Smartie eyes didn't need mascara. Her eyes were her one redeeming feature. She looked like a gargantuan Cleopatra. Big and bold. Her gaze bore into the government worker like a jackhammer.
The client, obviously in her mid 30s, had the look of an overgrown teenager. What had her mother been thinking when she named her, the welfare worker wondered."

Starr Reina said...


Thank you for showing us your character. Great description. I can visualize the character. However, you said, "The client, obviously in her mid 30s..." How is it obvious that the client is in her mid 30s?"

I can't wait to see your response. Thanks again!

Starr Reina

Anonymous said...

Hi Star. Thanks for the feedback. I guess I never really thought of that. I forgot the mantra: Show, don't tell. I should let the reader know. Maybe she had lost the fresh-faced look of youth and had a few worry lines? I will rework that. Thanks.


David said...


I like the description you have here. Now stretch yourself. See if you can work it into the action instead of giving a litany of descriptive features. I think if you can do that you will amaze yourself, and I see the potential for you to do just that. Great writing.

David Brollier

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