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Building Believable Characters

by Marc McCutcheon

Writer's Digest Books

282 Pages

Reviewed by Beth Morrow

 

When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.

--Raymond Chandler

 

While I don’t write suspense or mystery (or anything with guns, for that matter), I really love this quote. The fun comes, however, from knowing not only what the man is planning to do with the gun but why he has it in the first place: what’s brought him to this point?

Enter character. As anyone who’s tried creating fictional lives from scratch knows, there are times when all the details of your fictional family come to life and times when the only thing you know is that your hero had scrambled eggs for breakfast and he likes wearing green shirts…not much to build a novel (or short story) on.

That’s where Marc McCutcheon’s Building Believable Characters comes in. Part workbook, part lecture and part thesaurus, you may not know everything about your character by the time you finish, but you’ll have thoroughly considered many of the main aspects of creating a solid, believable characters.

First up is a series of interview-type questions posed to six authors on creating characters, the process of inventing believable characters, how to improve character descriptions and advice on how to improve dialogue to make help bring characters to life. The variety of authors provides excellent insight into credible character creation in this section.

Next is a lengthy (14 page) character questionnaire. While I’ve come to believe that character questionnaires are excuses for unprepared writers to waste time and not get to the actual business of writing, some of the questions go beyond the average "hair color, eye color"-type questionnaires. It’s not necessary to answer every question on the journey to know your story people, but thinking about your responses in relation to your characters might provide for an additional quirk, scene or plotline you may have overlooked.

The majority of the book is a self-titled character thesaurus. Between these pages you’ll find items to consider relating to your own character from such elements as physical descriptions, personality, language, dress, speech and names. Perusing these sections might lead you to the meat of your character or may just give you ideas for considering the possibilities for your character—either way, you’ll be thinking deeply about character by the time you finish.

Looking for ways to round out a character you’ve created or for that seed of a fictional person to lead you into your next story? Be sure to check out Marc McCutcheon’s Building Believable Characters if you’re in the market for fictional people of any type. After all, the more you know about your character before you write about him or her, the fewer drafts you’ll need to discover all those important traits that’ll make them come alive on the page. (Ok, ok. A girl can dream!)

 

 

About the author: Beth Morrow is a freelance writer who loves creating fictional characters and the conflicts that screw up their lives. Her first contemporary romance with The Wild Rose Press will be out later this summer. In the meantime, visit her on the web at: www.bethmorrow.com, her (almost) daily blog for writers at: www.fountainpeninc.blogspot.com or her take on the writing life at: www.writer-in-progress.blogspot.com

 

 
 

         Last updated: May 23, 2007