The first Stephen King book I read was “The Stand”. Undeniably it was a great story. But what drew me into this story more than anything else were the characters. He painted them so magnificently that I felt like I knew them. And this was not a story of three or four characters. There were plenty of them. Yet, none of them were the same. This was not simply a matter of changing their hair styles, or the color of their eyes. He displayed their inner being that distinguished one personality from another. These were not simply cardboard people. I could see them in my mind’s eye.
Some would disagree with me but to me the characters are the main heart of a story. Though the storyline might be ingeniously written, but if the characters seem phony then it is not going to seem believable.
Here are a few steps to create real, believable characters.
1) You must become the character that you write about. Any serious actor will spend a great deal of time getting to know the person he is to portray. In some ways the writer must do the same. You must first believe in this character you are creating before you can expect others to believe. It is a good idea to know more about your character than you actually put on the page.
2) Find the voice of the character. If you know your character, then you should have some idea of how he speaks. Is he loud and boisterous, is he timid, is his voice soft or harsh, does his words exude confidence, is he negative, impatient, does he have a draw, does he use words incorrectly, does he repeat himself, etcetera.
3) Match the mood of the story. If the story becomes tense the dialogue should go with it. If done right it will intensify the mood, making the story richer and will serve to move and/or deepen the plot.
4) Pacing. Dialogue in a story can speed up or slow down the speed of the story. To speed it up you should use short, quick remarks, often words that displays an urgency to the scene. To slow down the pace you would want to expand the dialogue making it seem less of an urgency.
5) Create realistic dialogue as the conflict rises. Not every dialogue is the same. Some should be avoided. Some should be embraced.
1) Avoid a dialogue that goes nowhere. If the dialogue does not advance the scene by adding some type of insight, then it should be avoided.
2) Avoid leaping. Don’t jump directly from problem to solution. There should be some steps in between. If not, the reader is likely to feel cheated and mentally dizzy from the jump.
3) Embrace a gradual rise. Move the story along in slow steps, increasing the level of suspense and should help lead the story to a satisfactory ending.
6) Dialogue is a necessary part of any story, but don’t let it overwhelm the narrative. Like the adage goes; actions often speak louder than words.
7) Avoid dialogue that repeats what the reader has already been told through action or previous dialogue. This is a rather obvious note but sometimes we forget what we created earlier in the story.
8) Read the dialogue aloud. Make sure it sounds natural to the character. A professional businessperson would not normally speak the same as a blue-collar-worker. The same with people from the north compared with people from the south. Like anything in life there are exceptions to these statements. But if there is no reason for these deviations it can make the character seem unreal. Having a famed surgeon speak like a mob boss will likely cause the reader to lose interest in the story.