Writing Characters Who Come Alive

3-pack3-021514-tmMost character charts for writers will include things like hair color, eye color, place of birth, occupation, and education. While these things are nice to know, they don’t tell you very much about the character other than surface facts. Here’s a list of some other things you need to think about to make a believable character.

Personality: Is your character an introvert or an extrovert? Is she ruled by her emotions or her intellect? Is he the life of the party or laid back? Personality is the cornerstone of who a person or character is. There are twelve basic personality types you can choose from. Click this link  for a description of each type.

Despair Or Hope Directions On A SignpostWorld View: What is your character’s belief system? This goes beyond their religious affiliation, but that’s a part of it. I’ll give you an example. Sally is an evangelical Christian who goes to church every time the doors are open.

You already have an idea of Sally’s belief system, but you need to dig deeper. Sally believes the Bible is the final authority, but even evangelicals differ. For instance, does Sally believe you should tell the truth even if a person’s life is in danger? Does Sally believe Christians should be actively involved social causes or does she believe we should be more concerned with spiritual matters? Does Sally think it’s alright to have an occasional glass of wine? How does she feel about protecting the environment? If someone is steeped in sin, will Sally befriend and try to help that person or will she distance herself and judge the person? There are many factors that go into our world views. It’s important to understand these when forming a character’s world view.

Character Flaws: What are your character’s flaws? Nobody is perfect. There are many flaws to choose from. But when choosing your character’s flaws, consider his personality and world view. For instance, an extrovert whose emotional may have a bad temper. Or she may make rash decisions. If she has a world view that’s judgmental, she may justify how she treats people. On the other hand, if she believes she’s supposed to help everyone, she may feel guilty when she loses her temper.

Redeeming Qualities: Every protagonist should have at least one redeeming quality, something that keeps the reading liking the person no matter how bad the character acts.

For instance, in my novel, Forks In the Road, JJ grows up to be an outlaw. There’s nothing good about that except he also has a protective friendship with his younger brother. He has put his brother before himself consistently throughout the novel, even risked his life for his brother at times.

This redeeming quality and the fact that he’s polite, even toward his victims, and has gone through a difficult past makes him likable even though we don’t like many of the things he does.

Motivation: Every character has to have a motivation or goal that keeps him moving forward in the story no matter what obstacles come in his way. And there should be obstacles, many of them, to keep the protagonist from reaching his goal. Without motivation, your main characters will seem flat like he’s drifting through the story. Motivation is key to a great character.

Mannerisms: We all have them. Does your character like to tease? Does she giggle when she’s nervous? Does he cross his arms when he’s upset? If you have a certain mannerism that signifies a character, it will make that character come alive. One warning here is don’t overuse that mannerism. A little goes a long way. Before long the reader will see the character doing the mannerism without you mentioning it.

Priority Rubber Stamp Shows Urgent Rush DeliveryPriorities: What is most important to your character? Don’t just list the surface stuff here.

Let’s go back to Sally. God is the most important thing in her life. Her family is second, and her career is third. What if Sally’s husband left her for another woman and isn’t paying child support? Now her career becomes more important because she needs the money to support her children.

But what if her career requires her to work so much she can’t spend any time with her children? Then what happens if she has to always work on Sundays and can’t take her children to church? What if the only babysitter she can find doesn’t believe in God?

You can see where this is going. Priorities are never easy. They sometimes blend, sometimes conflict with each other, and sometimes mess with motivations and world view. Life isn’t easy and neither are the choices we make. Don’t make life easy for your characters.

Backstory: We all have a past that colors what we believe about our world. Sometimes this past will cause us to have a distorted view of the world. What is your character’s backstory? What dark moment in the past causes him to believe a lie? What would it take to change his viewpoint?

You don’t want to reveal this backstory right away, but it’s important that you, the author, know what it is and why your character behaves the way he does. Then when you reveal it later on, it will make sense to the reader.

If you consider each of these factors when creating your characters, your characters will come to life and dictate to you where the story is going and what choices they will make. You will have a character driven story that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Characters Who Come Alive

  1. Pingback: Creating Main Characters Readers Care About « Word Sharpeners

  2. Pingback: Increasing The Word Count In A Manuscript « Word Sharpeners

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