Creating Characters

C is for
Creating Characters

When it’s time to write that next manuscript, I can’t stress how important it is to flesh out those characters. There’s nothing worse than reading a book with a great plot idea and cool setting but then having the story fizzle out due to cardboard characters. We’ve all picked up a book with that problem, where Mr. Main Character is as interesting as a bowl of cold spaghetti, with about as much flavor. You know, with robotic dialog spoken by folks who forgot to grow a personality. The reader should be able to picture the characters, pick up on their habits, quirks, and way of doing things, know what their goals are and why they set them, maybe get a peek at something from their past that made them how they are. Those MCs should leap off the page, dance around the reader’s head, and have them flipping to next page to cheer them on.

Some writers use elaborate character sheets, others may jot down details about players in the story, and some with reliable memories simply conjure their people up in their heads. Do whatever works for you, there’s no right or wrong way. I usually use my own character sheets, fill in most of the blanks, and occasionally attach a picture of a celebrity who’ll play the part in my mind as I write.

Here’s a list of things I like to know about my characters before I put them to work in a manuscript. NOTE: all this stuff does NOT actually have to get worked into the story, but as creator of your own Fiction World, you really should know the people you invent, inside and out, and what makes them tick.

Appearance – basically how they look and dress, including anything like tattoos, scars, glasses, their best and worst feature
Attitude – bold and daring or shy and introverted
Career – their current job or occupation and what they want to do in the future
Habits & Character Flaw –  choc-o-holic, boozer, neat freak, etc.
Family & Friends – do they have parents, children, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles? And how do they get along?
Significant Others – single, married, divorced, or casually dating someone for 53 years? And I like to know a little something about their exes.
Goals & Motivation – what does this character want more than anything, why, and what are the steps she’s taking to make it happen
Fears – What does she fear the most, or what is the worst thing that could happen to her?
Recent Past – What were they doing the week before the story starts? On vacation, laid up with the flu, in jail, bored at a hum-drum job?

Please share your ideas and comments. I’d love to read them. 🙂

11 comments on “Creating Characters

  1. Victoria says:

    How very cool is this, I posted about characters today too….LOL Great post Tina!

  2. njmagas says:

    For me, my story usually starts with a character. I do my character building before my world building or plot building and how I generally go about it is letting the idea ‘talk’. I have conversations with growing characters in my head, and from that, other characters emerge and they have conversations together and that’s how I flesh out who they all are, and what their relationships are.

    When they’ve all had their say, I start inputting “what if…?” What if she found a body in the basement? What if someone punched his grandmother? What if they never came home from school one day? One after another, like dress-up with paper dolls, I let my characters play out their reactions with each scenario until I find the one that fits just right.

    Then I start writing.

  3. nrhatch says:

    Absolutely! It’s hard to care about cardboard cut outs. And if I don’t care what happens to a character, it’s hard to keep turning pages.

  4. Great post. Characters are the real soul in the writing. I see many people who write non-fiction, they don’t focus much on characters, that disappoints me.

  5. Alex Hurst says:

    I totally agree. This is especially true of male protagonist fantasy epics. The main character is usually brawny, smart, witty (in his own mind), handsome (cause he always gets his girl), and seems to know how to do everything whenever he needs to know how to do it. It was one of the things that eventually turned me off the Sword of Truth series… Richard started out cool, but then he just had things snap along in place, and as a person, he hardly ever changed. It’s boring. :/

    One of my techniques when creating a character is to throw them in a free-form writing scenario… a random scene they would never normally be a part of, and see how they react. It’s a great way to get to know more about the inner workings of their mind. 🙂

    Alex Hurst, fantasy author in Japan, participating in Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

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