Quotes  |  Creating Great Characters

A while back, I taught a writing class at a local middle school. This is one of the activities we did—one I do frequently when writing. It is a guideline, not a law. Your characters may come to you in a completely different way. Often, you only get to know their personalities, and you learn the rest as you write. But always one rule applies: Know your character well.

Creation of a Character

Eventually every story needs a character. The richer and more alive this character is—the more passion his creator can put into him—the more life the story has. Whether the reader laughs with the character or cries with him, loves him or hates him, fears for him or cheers for his enemies, a reader should never be neutral. In order to do this, the author can never be neutral. Learn as much about your character as you can: What he fears, what he loves, what his dreams and goals are, what his favorite color is—learn anything you can.

Ask yourself:

What is he?
Human, animal, vegetable, mineral, none of the above?

What does he look like?
Tall, short, beautiful, dirty, pale, purple, furred, multi-tentacled?

What does he wear?
Formal attire, jeans and a T-shirt, fur, medieval doublet, Egyptian linen?

How old is he?
Baby, middle-aged, grandfatherly, as old as time?

How does he speak?
Timidly, strongly, obnoxiously, shyly, with an accent?

Then, once you can picture him in your head, learn his name.

Where is he from? What time period? Do you want his name to mean something specific?
You will be spending a great deal of time with this character; take time to introduce yourself.

Ask yourself:

Where is he? Why?
Who is he with? Why?
What is he doing? Why?

Once you have this basic idea and can visualize your character, put him in a situation and let him run. Put pen to paper and see how he reacts. Never assume you know everything about your character. Unexpected ideas may occur that were not in your plan. He might make a decision you did not desire. You give him life, but after that you must step back and instead of asking: What do I want my character to do now?

Finally, ask yourself:

What would this person do in this situation?

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