How to Make Your Characters Believable
by Brie McGill
Reading and writing fiction is a way to explore what isn’t possible in reality--interstellar travel, casting magic spells, or partaking in immortality with a coven of sexy vampires. Paradoxically, the stories that are the most engrossing have an uncanny way of convincing the reader that, yes, dinosaurs are real, the hero can travel time, and California sank to the bottom of the sea--whatever happens in the story, it is real.
I struggled to create credible characters while writing my first book, Kain, which involves the escape of a microchipped supersoldier from a dystopian Empire. The Empire engineered its soldiers--and in this case, the hero, Lukian--to be superstrong, superfast killing machines, versed in deadly martial arts.
So, it was awesomely fun to have a book full of superhot, superhuman dudes running around--doubly awesome if any shirts were torn in battle--but how could I relate to this? As an introverted girl with a mediocre home life, boring day job, and some adorable cats, what could I possibly have in common with a supersoldier on the lam?
I came to the conclusion: before my supersoldier hero is a supersoldier, he is first and foremost human. He has shortcomings, he has insecurities, he has a personal neurosis: to be relatable and therefore believable, I had to focus on his humanity first.
The formula, I believe, is the same for any character--every person contains some built-in contradiction, and conflicting psychological drives are what make a person interesting. People are like onions; they have layers.
My secret recipe for conflict and contradiction? Add a liberal dash of handicaps! Imagine the coolest character you possibly can, let him keep his special powers--but then knock him down a peg. Knock him down ten pegs. Give him obstacles, obligations, morals, fears, injuries, physical restraints.
Because Lukian was so physically powerful, I had to disable him in as many ways possible. Physically, his superiors coerce him with pain inflicted by remote-controlled nanomachines. But Lukian’s greatest challenges are psychological--being sold by his parents at a young age to be enrolled in the supersoldier program came at a huge developmental cost. He only knew life in the context of being raised as a machine; he never knew friendship, he never knew love, and when he finally broke free of this environment, he was a bumbling, socially awkward disaster.
As an author, I don’t feel my characters are complete--are believable enough--until I can have a field day poking fun at them. Some of my favorite scenes in the book, the ones I believe add the most depth to his humanity, and illustrate the extent to which Lukian has suffered, are the scenes that dive headfirst into his weakness--in this case, abject social inadequacy. Lukian blunders through immigration, his job, grocery shopping, and romance--and it was those moments that made me fall completely in love with him.
The fact that he is a superstrong, super-ripped MMA fighter who looks amazing without a shirt? It isn’t what makes the story, but it is definitely icing on the cake.
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Genre - Sci-Fi/Steamy Romance
Rating – R (18+)