Friday, August 13, 2010

How do you...

...Create Characters

One of the most fascinating aspects of writing for me is character creation. I'm a character writer so I look for books that are character driven (don't get me wrong, they need to have a fair amount of plot in them too). My favorite part about writing is the character creation process. It's the reason why I think up so many new ideas and what makes me want to stick with a novel the entire time. I love the characters and I want to see them through to the finish.

I always start with a loose premise. This allows me to know what kind of characters will fit in the novel. For instance, with my latest, I knew I was going to need an edgy, slightly darker main character. I also knew she needed to be a little selfish. When I'd finished creating this character I realized that people were going to REALLY dislike her which is a problem since she is telling the story. So I created a male counterpart who takes his turn telling half the story and made him everything she isn't. He's giving (I really iced on the sympathy here by giving him a neglecting family and a little sister he adores), thoughtful, pretty straight laced, and has a major crush on the other character. He sees her good and in doing so, forces the reader to as well.

Once I figure out who my main character (or characters in this case) is, I make up a character spread sheet. I list everything I know about this character, starting with physical attributes. It looks a little like this when it's finished:

Blake Porter
Hair: Black with a purple streak, short and choppy
Eyes: Almond shaped and grey
Height: 5' 4"
Body Type: Slender, longer torso
Distinguishing marks: A large burn scar on her back from her mother's blow torch (her sister inflicted it by accident)

Once this is complete, I go on to list her personality (just a loose description), her interesting traits (she hates feet), her likes, her dislikes, and everything in between.

I try to get pretty in depth but to be completely honest, a lot of things don't even come out until I'm writing and the trait/story/like/dislike magically appears on the page. For instance, during this last draft of my novel, I just found out that my male MC is lactose intolerant but that he buys chocolate milk for lunches anyways because his sister likes it. Those type of details are the reasons I make characters in the first place. 

My character spread sheet is an essential part to my work. I map out every single character (and add to it if I change something or add another character) and it comes in handy when I can't remember if someone's sister has blonde hair like their mom or light brown like them.

I like everything organized before I start writing otherwise it's so easy to get lost down that magical, swirling rabbit hole.

It is an added bonus that by doing this, my husband is able to draw my characters too. He just sneaks a peek over my shoulders and starts going. Here's his interruption of the character from the spread sheet above:

Created by Brian Mitchell

So what about you? How do you create characters?


  1. I'd have to say creating characters is my favorite part of the writing process, by far. Without having a plot, I'll create my entire cast of characters, down to the very last detail. I'm also guilty of using spreadsheets/mapping out their characteristics. Except my mapping is lengthy. I tend to write up several paragraphs for their biography, personality, etc.

    But usually I have a precise, clear idea about each, so instead of discovering many facets about them once I begin writing, I'm instead incorporating those little traits purposefully. Occasionally, though, I'll start a story without planning any of the characters; this is fun for me because I'll be writing and suddenly the character develops without my being aware of it.

    Having a visual is also nice. I can't draw, but I will spend hours searching the net for a picture that closely resembles how I feel my character would look.

    By the way, that is an awesome picture.

  2. I tend to be pretty in depth too. What I put up is just a small amount of what I do but I don't plan everything. There are still things that pop out of my character's mouth that I had no idea was even a part of them.

    I literally can't write a story without some sort of spread sheet. I already feel really weird starting out with a spread sheet because I know that the number one thing that makes a story interesting is voice and no matter how hard anyone tries, it isn't going to be fully developed in the first draft.

  3. I can start without a spread sheet, but what ends up happening is that I add a ton of comments and questions along the way, in the middle of paragraphs, along the sides, etc. It becomes a sort of unplanned spread sheet, if that makes sense.

  4. I always tend to focus on the characters as well and really feeling their emotions. I want to make them human so in a lot of respects I focus on those things, whether it be how they open letters or that their desk is always a mess. Little things that make them seem to actually be real and not just stick figures running around on paper, those are my favorite.

    I work best without a really detailed outline, but some outlining for the plot is necessary, the characters though I just let them come to me. It's fun. :)

  5. I am also way more of a character writer than plot. I have to know who I'm dealing with before I figure out what's happening to them, and I like to get a good idea of appearance, personality, and backstory (at least somewhat) before I focus more on plot specifics. Also when I'm stuck I like to invent new characters to shake things up :)

  6. Christina, I totally understand what you mean. I did that for my first novel but kept forgetting certain details and wished I had a sort of cheat sheet. That's why I started this character outline thing. It's really helped me!

    Danya, making new characters to shake things up is an awesome way to keep things interesting. I tend to stick with my same characters but tweak their relationships. In this newest novel I'm writing, in the first two drafts my male MC and female MC's brother were best friends the entire time. In this latest draft I made some changes to that relationship and found it really changed the story.

    Thanks for sharing guys!


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