How to Make Your Characters Believable by author Mary Stella

How to Make Your Characters Believable by author Mary Stella

Appleton : WI : USA | Jan 06, 2012 at 9:50 AM PST
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About Mary Stella

A voracious book fan since first learning to read, Mary Stella fell in love with romance novels while pursuing her English degree decades ago. A professional writer since someone first paid her to write radio commercials while she was still in college, she always dreamed of writing a book someday. Eventually, she realized that a book wouldn’t spring fully written from her brain so she’d better get cracking.

All Keyed Up, a humorous contemporary romance set at a dolphin facility in the Florida Keys with a determined researcher and a stubborn DEA agent, was her debut novel, originally published in print format a few years ago.Key of Sea, published a year later, proves that an ex-trophy wife can create a new life for herself, find love again with a hot younger man, and successfully battle land crabs.

Mary updated both books prior to releasing them electronically. She’s hard at work on a new project, which will also be set in the Florida Keys – the beautiful, fun, slightly abnormal island chain that she calls home.

Mary loves to hear from readers. Please email her at

Mary Stella’s Take on How to Make Your Characters Believable

Thanks for inviting me to be a guest blogger on All Voices and for letting me talk about one of my favorite aspects of writing fiction – character. All of the elements are important – story, setting, plot development and so on – but I am most fascinated by the characters in the book. They’re the ones that touch my heart, make me care, and, ultimately, elevate the entire story.

Nothing’s worse than when a character isn’t fully developed, or when he or she says or does something that isn’t in synch with the person we believe them to be. It’s up to the writer to develop them on different layers, building authenticity deep in their bones and their brains. The most believable characters don’t just show themselves in their speech. We hear who they are in the internal language of their thoughts, too. We see it in their actions and, sometimes even more so in their reactions to situations. All of those layers mean that each character will be original with his or her own personality, whether she’s a cop and he’s a doctor or vice versa.

When I’m writing, I have a blast going deep into character point of view (POV) and imagining how they see the world and what they think about what’s going on around them. I love when their thoughts or dialogue come out in language that’s colored by their background, age, job, locale, gender, passions and other factors.

In my first book, All Keyed Up, the heroine is a marine mammal research scientist. Without being stodgy, which isn’t at all her personality, her science background comes across in her observations, her speech, even the metaphors of the narrative when a scene is in her point of view. Determined that an antagonist is not going to ruin her plans, Victoria might exclaim, “When pinnipeds fly!” That’s totally in keeping with her character since pinniped is the scientific order for seals, sea lions and walruses – all marine mammals. In a romantic scene where she and the hero are swimming together and he embraces her, she describes them as suspended in the water like seahorses.

In my second book, Key of Sea, the hero is a fishing guide. Expressions and phrases inspired by his life on the water sprinkle through his speech and thoughts.

Language is only one of the tools a writer wields to bring believability and authenticity to her characters. Even though I’m reading, when a character is drawn well through the writer’s words, I can see how they move and it makes them come even more alive. A brawny career soldier walks, sits, and watches people differently than, say, a lanky artist. An 80 year old woman and her 12 year old granddaughter might both make their way around a garden, but they sure won’t move the same.

Speaking of that grandmother and child, if the adult is feisty and the child shy, those traits will color their actions and reactions. What would they do if, all of a sudden, a strange man appeared in their garden while they strolled? How would their reactions be different if the child was bold and accustomed to helping her parents care for her grandmother who suffers from dementia?

These are all things that I consider when creating a character, and it begins before I ever write a scene. I spend a great deal of preparation time musing about my characters. I consider the external influences such as location, education, job, family and upbringing that have shaped them. Then I delve into their emotions, personalities, previous experiences and current goals. This prep work helps me know them intimately and their thoughts, speech, movements, reactions flow out of that knowledge.

Sure, it takes work to make characters as believable as possible, but it’s so much fun to slip inside their skin, dig into their heads, and paint their images for the reader.

About All Keyed Up

A Man with a Plan

At home in the Florida Keys on medical leave, undercover agent Jack Benton is on a mission to save his beloved aunt’s failing dolphin facility. He’s positive he can close a seven-figure land development deal, until his sassy Aunt Ruby accepts the proposal of world renowned marine mammal scientist Dr. Vic Sheffield. Against his better judgment, Jack must cooperate with the project or break Ruby’s heart.

A Woman with a Dream

Things aren’t what they seem. More than the Keys temperature heats up when Dr. Victoria Sheffield finesses her way into the facility under the guise of her famous father’s name, hoping to finally establish herself as a top notch researcher. A lifetime of behavioral observation hasn’t prepared her, however, for a suspicious, sexy homo-sapien like Jack. She’ll need every last point of her elevated I.Q. to outwit this wily alpha male. He knows she’s hiding something, and sooner or later he’ll figure it out. In the meantime, not only his suspicions are aroused by the beautiful brainiac.

Two Hearts on Fire

When dreams collide and passion storms, it’s no wonder everybody’s All Keyed Up!

About Key of Sea

In her youth, Dora Lee Hanson set her dreams on distant goals. A more exciting life waited, if not over the rainbow, then at least somewhere out of the quiet Florida Keys. The twenty-something beauty left home for a modeling career, but a wealthy magnate swept her off her ostrich-plumed mules. Unfortunately, after more than a dozen years of marriage, the wicked wretch kicked her to the curb. Facing a very uncertain future, she returns to her beloved grandfather and the home she eagerly left behind all those years before.

Successful Keys fishing guide Bobby Daulton has the life he always intended, with one notable exception. He never caught Dora Lee, the love of his youth. After all these years, he never expected her to blow back into his world with tornado force, but he’s a far cry from the kid who once let her slip the line and escape.

When an ex-trophy wife with a mid-life crisis hooks up with the hot guy whose heart she unknowingly broke years before, the passionate pair rock more than the romance boat. Dora Lee has her eye on a brand new dream. Bobby has his eye on Dora. He’s fallen for her again, hook, line and sinker, and this time she won’t swim away.

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Mary Stell
Author Mary Stella
TLGleichner is based in Appleton, Wisconsin, United States of America, and is a Reporter on Allvoices.
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