The Secret to Crafting Believable Characters

By C. S. Lakin

Readers today want to get deep into our characters rather than being told what they are feeling. Which means our characters must feel, react, emote, and process in natural, believable ways. Deep POV has become the norm across genres.

“Show, don’t tell” is the golden rule of fiction, but it’s easier said than done. If we show too much, we risk boring our readers (and ourselves) or overwriting. If we show too little, we risk failing to adequately reveal the character’s emotions and, hence, fail to evoke any emotional response in our readers.

As we balance narrative, backstory, dialogue, action, and direct thoughts, we have to be mindful of the overarching purpose of all of it: to artfully show the character’s emotional state through her mind-set, thoughts, behavior, dialogue, and body language. It is not easy to do well. The saying “Easy reading is hard writing” is a truth seasoned authors know well.

There’s a little-known secret that lies at the heart of creating believable characters, and that’s the Action-Reaction cycle. What’s that? you ask. And why is it so important? I’ll answer the second question first.

If your characters don’t show emotion in believable ways and in the right moments in a scene, or if they don’t show emotion at all when emotion is expected, it will disappoint and/or confuse readers. We need our characters to behave like real people, to act and react naturally.

I often find myself writing in the comments of a critique: What’s his reaction? How does this make him feel? You’re in his head, so what is he thinking? How can you show these feelings? See More . . . 


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