A good plot is essential to your story, but a convincing character is crucial. In fact, your plot can develop out of your character. A well-drawn character will have conflicts, desires, and flaws—all of which move the plot forward and keep your readers invested. So, what makes a character convincing? Laurence Perrine, in Story and Structure, claims that a convincing character must have the following three elements:
You also want to ensure that your central character is “round.” Flat characters tend to fall into stereotypes: the blonde bimbo, the snaggle-toothed villain, the damsel in distress, the donut-eating cop. Round characters are complex and dimensional. They trip over curbs, they have food stuck in their teeth, they have fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams. Most importantly, they evolve. By the end of your story, your round character has changed or been changed by events.
So, where do you find inspiration for your convincing character? Ideally, your character is completely fictional based on a combination of your imagination, observations you’ve made of the people around you, and the research you’ve done on your topic. You may also choose to model your character after your own experiences with being human. Perhaps your character is a pilot because you know the exhilaration of flying a plane. Maybe your character is driven by the stress of competition because you have a show dog. Maybe your character is overly empathetic because you’ve worked in a hospice.
In the end, believability is key. You are not just creating a character for your readers, you are breathing air into a person. As Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”