If you’ve consumed any form of story, you’ve likely run into characters that didn’t seem quite right. Dragons, pantheons, acrobatic Chinese boy bands– you can suspend your disbelief for all of these things, yet somehow you can’t bring yourself to fully believe in a character.
An example would probably be the best way to break into this. Wesley has recently been slogging through a book* by a well-known author in which the main character is victim to staged humor. What I mean by this is that the other characters react to her comments exactly as they should if what she had said was funny.
Only it never is.
Far too often, we try to manipulate readers into believing something about a character by having the other characters around them act as if it was true. This often happens when we’re trying to convey how intelligent, brave, witty, or romantic a character is (other traits can be included, but these are the greatest offenders in my personal experience).
So how do we avoid this?
First, be honest with yourself. If, like me, you aren’t particularly funny, writing a hilarious character will be wicked hard and likely unsuccessful. Or if you want to write a book about an ornithologist but know nothing about birds, it won’t go well.
But… if your story desperately needs comic relief or an avian fanatic, get help.
There are two categories of knowledge we can be lacking: trait and technical.
If you’re lacking a trait knowledge, have someone who you think has that trait (humor, romantic flair, etc.) read over the manuscript and make suggestions– it doesn’t all have to come from your brain.
If it’s a technical knowledge gap, find someone who knows about the subject and pick their brain. Or, if you are writing because you like staying in your house thank you very much, utilize the world wide web. I heard that some people have had success using that.
No matter what, don’t fake it! People are pretty dang good at sniffing out b.s. and you haven’t poured this much time and energy into writing a story for someone to put it down with a “meh” because an unbelievable character tainted all your hard work.
So, remember your characters aren’t actors; it’s not their job to convince readers of anything except of their own reality. Readers can spot real wit, real knowledge, real evil, so don’t write anyone that your narrator or other characters have to cover up for. Going out of your way to fill in the knowledge gap with give your story strength and believability, so start googling!
*Its saving grace is apparently fantastic action, but I’m not willing to saddle myself with a fake character for 400+ pages.
Abigail signing off.