On Facebook today, Margaret Weis posed a discussion to her followers: How do you create believable characters, and how do you maintain their consistency? Below is my answer.
To create a believable character, I give mine flaws. Lots of them. None of us are perfect, and we often make mistakes. But more than that, we’re not saints. We’re afflicted with jealousy, anger, hurt, the list goes on. Put those qualities into a character, and it will go far. On the flip side, make the villains sympathetic, something to make the reader want to see them flip and become a better person. Of course, they won’t do that (they’re the villain) but it brings the reader into their world.
As to the second part of the question – How to make sure they’re consistent: Do a search for your main characters name. Go through every piece of dialogue, every chapter they appear in. For now, ignore all other characters and just focus on ONE at a time, all the way through your manuscript. Do the inner thoughts remain consistent? The dialogue? The description? What about the larger picture–their conflicts, both inner and outer? If you manage to answer yes to these on a first pass, move on to your next character. This is a time consuming task, but it’s a necessary one.
Pay special attention to your minor characters. This is because your beta readers will be more likely to catch inconsistencies in your main characters, but the minors slip by. However, when (hopefully) thousands of people read the book, someone will certainly catch those inconsistencies and alert the rest of the world.
Now this is a very simplistic explanation. Bloody hell, there’s entire books written on the subject, so I can’t expect to solve the problem in a few bullet points. However, that’s the crux of it. It’s what I do.