HOW TO MAKE BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS
Making a believable character whom we can all route for is tough. Yet, I was able to find a great example of how to draw the reader in with this video clip of Katy Perry’s “Roar”. Remember, you promised not to judge.
A character has to be in a situation of conflict in order for the reader to like her. Katnis from The Hunger Games is pretty awesome, but if she only sat on the couch eating chips and dip and drinking diet Cheerwine, we’d never know cool she was. The same is true for Frodo, or Legolas for that matter. What if Legolas was just at target practice with his shirt off for the duration of a thousand pages? Would we really care? Probably not, unless you’re a screaming fanatic of Orlando Bloom. Then watching him hit targets with his shirt off wouldn’t be all that bad.
In “Roar”, you see that Katy has crashed with her guide/boyfriend dude who’s so conceited that he doesn’t care that she’s freaking out. Then he gets mauled by a tiger out of nowhere, leaving Katy to fend for herself.
That’s conflict enough, yet we need more if we’re going to truly have a deep longing for the main character’s success.
2) Inner Change
To draw in a reader’s affection for your character, there needs to be some sense of revelation or change or I-can’t-go-back-there’dness. In the video, if Katy wants to survive, she cannot sit on a stump and just let the tide roll away. She has to get up and do something.
This is your chance to wrestle with the challenges that the character has with her current desolate situation. Think about Katnis (I use her because she’s universally known). She has no choice but to intercede with for her sister by offering herself as tribute. Of course this is the self-sacrificing ideal, so who can argue with that?
But there are a lot of ways to go from the desolate place of conflict. The idea is that your character has to decide to move – to get up, get out, and get something. She can’t be stagnant, and she can’t be meandering. Nobody likes a leaf, being blown about wherever the wind carries her. Give your character decisions and let those decisions move her forward, even despite the conflict. (The conflict could be in the form of grief or ambition or whatever).
Believe it or not, success should happen from time to time for your character. Some works can pull off constant failures like The Pursuit of Happiness. But it’s not typical. In “Roar” you see that Katy learns to live in the wild. She breaks her heels and uses them as part of her spear, she’s brushing a croc’s teeth, and showering via an elephant (all phony of course). But the character learns to live with her decisions and to move forward from there.
This type of success lets the reader feel like he is riding along with your character, glad that he is taking this journey with her.
Success can come in different ways. Maybe your character learns to harvest food on her own. Maybe she learns to wield magic on her own. Maybe she learns to say no to boyfriends who keeps breaking her heart. But what happens is that she creates her own life, and to the reader, that feels good.
4) The Promise
“Roar” constantly promises us one thing: that we are going to hear Katy Roar. And it fulfills that promise. But I like how the video arrives at this climax.
The tiger kills her guide/boyfriend dude, so now the tiger is the basis of her fear. She knows this beast is out there somewhere. We see that Katy catches a glimpse of a tiger in the lights over the water which brings her intrigue. Along the way, she spots some ancient writings on the wall which show a tiger being hunted by people, and then this tiger grows and roars and scares the people away. Here is as another point of her intrigue.
The promise is then fulfilled when she runs up on the tiger, charges up all her confidence, and then roars and shuts the tiger down, ultimately conquering her fears.
Our novels should come with a promise to the reader, a sense that I want to do this one thing, and this is the one thing that’s driving me. Whether our characters fulfill that promise or not is the story to be told, but we must at least have the characters face that promise in some way.
The video is unique because it speckles promises of the roar throughout, which is a great spice for the reader to pick up on as he continues to read.
These elements together will help to build a lot of affinity for our characters. What are your thoughts? Were there things that you might add?
I always think of my characters in terms of journeys. They start off at point A, then travel to various points along the way to finally arrive at the (emotional/psychological/physical) destination I want them to be at when the book ends. At each stopping point, my characters learn something about themselves, their relationship with others and the mission they are on. At the end of the journey they are no longer the same person they were when they set off. This must be true for all the characters in my story, not just the main protagonist/heroine/hero.
I confess, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video, as I can’t stand Katy Perry and would be quite happy if a tiger ate her and stopped her from singing:)
First let me comment on your latter statement. I’m not a fan of the teeny-bopper either hahah. It’s so sad, but I shrugged and checked out the video by torturous coercion. For the sake of my dignity, I chose to take at least something away from that experience lol
That said, you’re right. It’s great knowing that your characters start one place and end up another, both emotionally and physically (in the case of most genre novels).
Thanks for the comment.