Book Reviews

Building Believable Characters

The Writer’s Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters, by Marc McCutcheon is one of the many useful resource books put out by Writer’s Digest Books.

There are many building blocks for writers when it comes to crafting the foundation for stories. Creating characters is one of the most crucial elements writers must develop. Without characters, there is no story. However, many writers are uncertain about how to go about creating characters and bring them to life on the page.

Building Believable Characters offers great advice from other writers as well as a character questionnaire. The questionnaire is in-depth and asks the writer to fill in such information on their character such as name, weight, height, age, body type, physical characteristics, race, religion, gestures, skills, occupation and so much more.

After the questionnaire, there is a chapter titled Character Thesaurus. Under this chapter there are subsequent sections touching on: Face and Body such as complexions, skin types, blemishes, eye type, shape and color, noses, hair, facial hair, body types and so on.

Personality/Identity covers personality traits, bad habits and vices, psychological/psychiatric problems, diseases, disorders, afflictions, hobbies and sports, along with a few others.

Facial expressions, body and vocal language includes anger, anxiety, fear, shock, pain, suspicion, guilt, arrogance, disgust, nausea, happiness, love, grief, drunkenness, laughs, etc.

Dress involves clothing such as dresses, skirts, pants, shirts, coats, undergarments, shoes and boots, hats, sweaters, glasses, fashion styles and others.

Dialects and Foreign Speech runs through Southern (US) Accent Pronunciation Guide, British Expressions and Pronunciations, French and Spanish vocabulary, as well as Italian, German and Russian vocabulary.

Given Names and Surnames from Around the World pulls together names from English, Scottish, Irish, French, Berman, Jewish, Dutch, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Scandinavian, Russian, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese.

The last section covers character homes such as adobes, log homes, bungalow, Cape Cod, Greek Revival, Georgian among many others.

I personally have used Building Believable Characters to create characters from my own novels and short stories. The result was having vivid characters whom I knew more intimately than I thought possible. My characters were alive on the pages and therefore generated more emotion from my readers as they followed my characters’ lives throughout the book.

Marc McCutcheon has an excellent book here and I recommend it for novice writers uncertain of where to begin with building their characters, as well as for professionals looking to juice up their characters.

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