C – Characters


April 3, 2013 by KWills

Characters are essential to any story.  They give your readers a way into your world.  And they are very hard to get right.

Beware letting things “just come”.  A character arriving in a flash of inspiration is fantastic, but that is not an excuse to skimp on the character development.  Characters are people, and people are complicated.

I have tried a few different methods of character building, from the super-detailed to freewriting character scenes to see what happens.  I found the interview style questions too specific, and freewriting really isn’t my strong suit, so  I have come up with my own character sheets.  Instead of asking questions, I have given myself  a series of prompts for an essay on each character.  The “present” is always the beginning of the story, unless otherwise stated.

  • General: Name, age, nicknames, species (where appropriate), nationality/culture (ditto).
  • Physical: Appearance, including any physical mannerisms (distinctive walk, plays with hair when nervous, etc.)
  • Where the hat hangs: Home, past and present.  Neighbourhood and wider community/area.  Include all relevant info.
  • Work & education: Where, when and with whom.
  • Relationships: Friends, family, lovers, colleagues, enemies, acquaintances – everyone.  A brief rundown of who’s who in this character’s life.
  • Beliefs & attitudes: Not just religious beliefs, but all the things that the character believes which affect the way he views the world.
  • Personality: Either an official “type”, or a broad statement about chief characteristics.  
  • Likes & dislikes: Be as detailed or as vague and the character requires.  Note any particularly strong feelings, one way or the other.
  • Other: Anything else.
  • Meta: Story-role, character development arc, goals, conflicts, resolution, etc.  

This method works for me, because I tend to develop my stories plot-first.  I know that some writers take the character-first route, and this list is probably insufficient for them.  Are you a writer?  How do you get to know your characters?


6 thoughts on “C – Characters

  1. Anya Padyam says:

    Nice blog 🙂 glad I chanced upon this! love your theme for the A to Z challenge; I look forward to the upcoming letters …
    Hv a nice day

  2. Hiya.

    I’ve taken non-traditional character workshops. One interesting approach was going into a chat room or writing in the forums as our characters and our classmates would ask us questions. This exchange revealed many traits/backstory possibilities/plot options that I hadn’t considered. It was a great way to brainstorm character development.

    Another method new to me is the entire GMC/MRU process. For those not in the know, just like me, at the time, it stands for Goal, Motivation, & Conflict/Motivation-Response Units Good stuff that’s helping me work through my Camp NaNo novel.

    As an online RPGer many moons ago, I remember the hours that went into birthing a character via character sheets. Sometimes that was more fun than the RPG itself! Since then, I’ve adopted various methods that suit my needs per project. For instance, GMC/MRC works well for my Camp NaNo novel (YA SF). The story is bigger and there’s a bit of world-building involved. I need to be consistent and realistic while creating the mystic of a fantasy world. I’m freestyling my Savvy Authors Boot Camp novel (Contemporary). The setting is present day and my sprints tend to flow organically for this story. I suppose it depends on the story you wish to tell and how the characters let you into their world. Some are more willing than others.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Love the blog name, of course. 🙂



  3. I’m sort of a “six one way/half-dozen the other” sort of writer. I sometimes start with characters… other times I start with a plot. Characters are far easier for me than plots… they sort of step out of the aether into my mind and onto the page almost fully formed. Plots and story-lines take much longer, and far more effort.

    (stopping in from the A-Z challenge)

  4. Kate says:

    I’m totally a plot heavy writer so I always struggle with making my characters more complex. I love your list! Every extra bit of attention that I can put into building my characters is helpful!!! I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your next post 🙂

  5. […] need to learn to be cruel to my characters.  They may be the key to storytelling, but unless they have to struggle, there is no story to tell.  Fighting to overcome obstacles will […]

  6. […] to complement the  ”character” steps of the Snowflake method as given.  I also use my own version of character sheets for stage […]

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