Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My Guest: Scott Thompson

My Guest this week touches upon an element that populates our novels and can often make or break them. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Scott Thompson

Creating Believable Characters
for Your Stories and Novels

Creating characters for your short stories and novels seems simple enough at first. There are characters that are easy for us to create because are like us, generally, but the difficult characters may not be obvious until we start writing them, or until the reader experiences a flat story. For example, men have a terrible time creating believable female characters, but I haven’t seen the same problem for women writers who often create perfect male characters. This may be because women are more in tune with what’s going on around them, and men are oblivious.

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Do you see what just happened in the paragraph above? I made an assumption about women and men. While the two sexes are generally different, they are not always different. There are plenty of men who are well tuned into women. There are plenty of men who want what was once considered something only a woman might want in life, and vice versa. And there are plenty of women who don’t understand men, as I stated boldly in the first paragraph. At first, this might make you want to give up on figuring out characters, but it shouldn’t. This only shows how complex people are, and the more complex your characters the more interesting they’ll be to your readers.

Stereotypes can help us create a character, but if you want to create a character that is as complex as a real person, you’ll have to go beyond the stereotypes and figure out what makes them different. What is their history? We all have a history full of great times and difficulties. So does everyone you know in real life. If anyone has lived long enough they’ve seen their dreams crushed, seen people they love deeply die, and experienced success and failure professionally. These are the things that make an adult who they are, and cause them to evolve from who they were as a child. These are the things that make us unique. Even if your characters never mention their past, you must know that they had one. Why is a particular character a womanizer? It’s not just because he’s a dog. There’s a reason. Maybe the only woman he ever loved cheated on him when he was in his early twenties. Maybe she died, and he’s never been able to let himself fall for someone again.

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Using real people in your life to begin the creation of a character is fine, but you must let that character evolve into who they need to be. Just like a child, you can teach them and guide them, but the child will become who they are despite their parents. You must let your characters evolve as well. Maybe a character starts with someone you know. That’s okay. But after you have them established change their physical appearance. Give them a past that is different from what you know about the real person. Then let the character evolve. If you don’t do this, if you keep the character too close to someone you know, you’ll never let that character do the things needed that make him or her human.

If I base a character on my wife, someone I think is near perfect, I’ll never let that character do something wrong. Humans, no matter how morally focused, make big mistakes and hurt other people. Even the best people lie, cheat, and steal at some point in their lives. We all struggle with the light and the dark. With right and wrong. If you love your character too much, you won’t let them experience these struggles. You won’t let them fail. You won’t let them make bad decisions. The same goes for basing a character on someone you hate. If you hate the real person too much, you won’t let the character struggle with good. You won’t let that character experience redemption.

If I can leave you with anything, it’s to make your characters complex. Know their back-stories. Even if you never mention a character’s history – and often you shouldn’t – you’ll know their history and that will make for better characters. That will make them believable, and that will make your story more intriguing.


Award winning author, Scott Thompson, grew up in Georgia, and it is the South that has inspired his stories. Through fiction he explores love, friendship, and family, and how tragedy and life events affect these relationships.
Thompson’s favorite poem is “A Rolling Stone” by Robert W. Service. In this poem of freedom and exploration Service writes “I want to see it all,” and that sums of Scott’s life: He wants to see and do everything.
This seeking has brought him to more than a few adventures that find their way into his fiction. What he’s discovered through his exploration is that there is more magic in the universe than we can imagine. But he truly believes that we’re offered glimpses into heaven almost daily if we’ll take the time to look, and through his book, Eight Days, he explores some of the glimpses that make it worth living.
Thompson lives outside of Atlanta with his family. His work can be read in regional magazines, in his short stories, and in his first novel, Young Men Shall See. Thompson is a founding editor at Grand Central Review. His latest novel, Eight Days, follows a man after death into eternity.


Thanks, Scott, for your interesting comments on character development. I'm sure many will be bookmarking this for the future.

Eric @
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