You know it's an obvious necessity to get right in any work of literature. When you write your characters have to be more than just believable. The old lady down the road that's blind and keeps a dog to scare off intruders is believable, but she's rare, she's a cliche - she does exist and so she qualifies as believable but she doesn't jump out at you waving the 'read more about me I'm interesting' banner!' in other words, she isn't realistic.
You have to put in so much more to make your characters realistic, and there are a few simple rules needed to master this.
Your reader must clearly understand who this person is and be totally at ease with them as a real person - no doubts.
There are a number of ways you can achieve this:
The first thing is don't give your character the capabilities of a super hero. You shouldn't make a heroine unbelievably beautiful so that every male head turns and looks, or so intuitively perceptive that she works out everything in advance. How many people have you ever met like that? Keep that in mind when creating your characters. If you've never come across such a person then they probably don't exist or are certainly very rare and that qualifies them as barely believable at best. It's okay for your character to be talented in some way but they are human and must show human frailties within their characterisation as well as the strengths talent may bring.
In a recently published story my heroine was a talented pianist, but she is also just an ordinary family mother and wife. At one point in the story I go out of my way to express her feelings that show doubt, fear and trepidation - her talent is there but it is not all consuming of her character.
The next thing is dialogue. What would your character really say in a certain situation?
Stuffy formal dialogue is boring. (That's official!) You must inject personality into your dialogue and this is easy if you follow the one simple rule: Put yourself in your character's position.
This is actually a good rule of business in almost any genre - you have to be able to look at things from the customer's point of view. When you can do this then 'realism' starts to fall into place.
The third thing goes hand in hand with the second point above: your character must have flaws. He or she must not be perfect and must fail as well as succeed. this also means they must make mistakes, make the wrong choices, be mean towards or upset somebody, show emotions of regret, desire, anger or just pure frustration.
Here is an excerpt from a recently published story of mine: The heroine, Paula, is talking to her supportive husband a few nights before a concert she is to give. Many recent strange events have affected her and her family and she is starting to feel quite uneasy and even doubt her ability to pull things around. The dialogue is carefully integrated with description of how she particularly was feeling.
Paula got up and grabbed her coat.
“Where are you going?” called David.
“I don't know, - out . . somewhere.” Paula was clearly upset.
“You two,” (he was talking to Liam and Jamie), “look after your little sister, I'm going with your mother.” and with that he grabbed his jacket and bustled after her.
All she had wanted was just to be able to do the piece justice, to be able to give the concert without any problems. Why do odd things always have to happen that make you feel something isn't quite right? What had she done to deserve this? And something else, her family had acted most oddly when they came in last Saturday night, it hadn't meant much to her at the time but now she sensed something wasn't right. And, Jamie; what was all that about a piano in the church? Now she was getting paranoid. David caught up with her.
Suddenly she put her finger on it. The Christmas cards she got down from the loft, - one of them
had that phrase, 'My Little lady' and said it was from an 'Uncle Mark'!
“David this is something to do with me.” She told him about the stuff she'd retrieved from the loft.
“Whatever made you go and look for those things anyway?”
“I don't know, you were all out and . . well I was thinking about that Christmas book and the cosy old customs it talks about, there's a passage in it very similar, all about a family member who'd kept some old cards, so I just remembered we had some old Christmas relics and went looking.”
“Where did you get that book from?”
“It was Ian, Ian at school, . . and that's another thing, you know he gave it to me with great conviction, it was a little odd.”
The couple walked in the morning sunshine. They were heading down the lane at the back of their house. There was a sharp frost and the day was cold in spite of the sun. Paula suddenly stopped and turned to her husband.
“I don't know if I can do this David,” she said,“something isn't right, I can't focus . .what am I going to do the performance is only days away?” She was close to tears.
The dialogue is only quietly dramatic, it isn't extensive but it tells the reader very definitely that the main character in this story is feeling the pressure . The descriptive text explains why.
A fourth thing to try and include is your character's 'bio' - they need some history. Where did they grow up? What has just happened to them prior to the start of the story? What life experiences have they acquired and from what type of environment?
Again, in the passage above I refer back to things, experiences and events from the past that have shaped her present and therefore the point her character is now at is all the more believable.
The final point is to mould all the the traits together. Remember, you become what you have been a part of.
Your character has real experiences that you should try to pick out and use throughout the story. Not everything, just the strongest points that make the most sense. For example, maybe my character had experienced her mother and father arguing over a certain situation when she was very little, then maybe any reoccurence of that situation would display as more catastrophic for her.
Recently a niece of mine visited an authentic castle with real life constructed re-enactment. She was enthusiastically enjoying it until an artificial fire blew throughout the room bringing to the fore her absolute fear of fire: Her reactions then became very different from others around her because this was a built in characteristic that was always going to invoke her raw emotions.
So make your characters not just believable but real. You don't need an essay on each character to introduce them, the skill is in drip feeding the right information in the right way so that the reader 'gets it.'
For strong believable realistic characters read 'I'll be there for the Replay' here