How to Make Your Characters Believable by Gaelen VanDenbergh, author of 'Running Against Traffic'

Paige Scott spent her childhood shuffled between relatives who ignored her, and her adult life hiding in her crumbling marriage to wealthy David Davenport. When David suddenly thrusts her into a remote, impoverished world, Paige is forced to face the betrayals of her past - not to mention the colorful townies of her present. Unexpected friendships and her discovery of running propel her on a jagged and comical journey toward learning how to truly live.

How to Make Your Characters Believable

Your characters are crucial to a good story. Yes, there must be a plot. Things have to happen to these people. But in my opinion, if the characters are not believable, the most riveting story will fall flat.

You have to know your characters. What do they like to eat? If they had a day entirely to themselves, alone, what would they choose to do? Do they have secret dreams or desires that no one knows about? How do they react in various situations? If you think about a close friend of yours, think of all that you know of that person's idiosyncrasies. Carefully consider your characters in the same way.

Consider personal history. Where did they grow up? What was their family situation? Do they have brothers and sisters? Were they nurtured or neglected or something in-between? What turning points occurred in their life? What were their relationships like with partners over the years?

If I find myself struggling with the process of getting to know one of my characters, and this has happened many times, I pretend we are meeting for a drink, and I ask them questions. As the conversation in my head progresses, I begin to sort out who this person is and what made them who they are, what brought them to this point in their lives, what they are going through in the present. I can be very nosy.

Once your characters become real to you, your writing will portray them honestly, and they will therefore be believable to your readers.

Finally, pay attention to the details. For me, once I have truly gotten to know a character the way I would know a close friend, I can hear them talk, I see their body language, and I often think I know how they would react in certain situations. Though, as I write, they sometimes surprise me, and then we have to go back to the bar to discuss it. Why did they do that? What made them say that? Don't let them try to change the subject. This may be their story but it's your book. Find out what's really going on.

If this seems like a lot of work, consider your friendships in real life. Did they just come about, or did you spend time getting to know these people? It wasn't really work, was it? Well, with some people it's work. But with people you have created, it should fascinate and engross you. For me, it's the absolute best part of the writing process.


I am a writer, runner, reader, compulsive list-maker, mother and zookeeper (it feels like it, anyway). I grew up in Philadelphia, moved around a bit – Maine, Boston, NYC, back to Philly – and I have lived here for the past twelve years. I live with my husband and daughter, a fat cat, several fish, and a one-eyed dog.  

Pump Up Your Book and Gaelen VanDenbergh are teaming up to give you a chance to win a $100 Amazon Gift Card!

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  • This giveaway begins September 2 and ends September 27, 2013.
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blog tour schedule
Monday, September 2 - Book featured at Bibliotica Tuesday, September 3 - Book featured at One Page at a Time
Wednesday, September 4 - Book featured at Margay Leah Justice
Thursday, September 5 - Interviewed at Literal Exposure
Thursday, September 5 - Book featured at Miki's Hope
Friday, September 6 - Book featured at Icefairy's Treasure Chest
Monday, September 9 - Book featured at Sweeping Me
Tuesday, September 10 - 1st chapter reveal at Books and Needlepoint
Wednesday, September 11 - Book featured at Soctrates Book Reviews
Thursday, September 12 - Guest blogging at Storeybook Reviews
Friday, September 13 - Interviewed at Review From Here
Friday, September 13 - Guest blogging at Raven Reviews
Friday, September 13 - Book featured at Mom Loves 2 Read
Monday, September 16 - Guest blogging at The Writer's Life
Monday, September 16 - Book featured at The Self Taught Cook
Tuesday, September 17 - Interviewed at Book Marketing Buzz
Tuesday, September 17 - Book featured at Libby's Library
Wednesday, September 18 - Book featured at Mary's Cup of Tea
Wednesday, September 18 - 1st chapter reveal at Reader Girls
Thursday, September 19 - Interviewed at I'm Shelf-ish
Thursday, September 19 - Guest blogging and 1st chaper reveal at Ali's Books
Friday, September 20 - Book featured at Confessions of a Reader
Monday, September 23 - Book reviewed at My Devotional Thoughts
Monday, September 23- Guest blogging at Crystal's Many Reviews
Tuesday, September 24 - Book featured at Jody's Book Reviews
Tuesday, September 24 - 1st chapter reveal at Literary Winner
Tuesday, September 24 - Book reviewed at Queen of All She Reads
Wednesday, September 25 - Guest blogging at Literarily Speaking
Wednesday, September 25 - Book reviewed at Ramblings of a Book Lunatic
Wednesday, September 25 - 1st chapter reveal at Sarah Ballance
Thursday, September 26 - 1st chapter reveal at moonlightreader
Thursday, September 26 - Guest blogging at Curling Up By the Fire
Thursday, September 26 - Book featured at My Cozie Corner
Friday, September 27 - Book reviewed at All Grown Up?
Friday, September 27 - Book reviewed and Guest blogging at Jersey Girl Book Reviews
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1 comment:

  1. I always start with a face. I look for a picture in a magazine or on the internet that fits my idea of the character. Once I have the look, my process is more or less the same as yours. I think about their history, the little things they do throughout the day, what they think about, what it would be like to have a drink with them etc.


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