Monday, October 28, 2013

Designing a Character

Everyone has his or her own style of writing and getting to know main characters. I’ve always found it easiest to design a character first and then plan a story around him. Some like to tackle the story first and let the character develop. Either way, here’s a list of details to consider as you build your characters.

Name and gender

Background - What are the characters’ race, culture, and nationality? What are their religious or spiritual beliefs? What was their upbringing like? What was their economic status? What relatives were present - parents, siblings, others?

Personality - What are the characters’ personality types? (There are several personality type scales and charts. I use the ones outlined in Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus book - choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholy.) What are the strengths and weaknesses? What are their interests and hobbies? What are the goals of each character? (That alone can set the storyline.)

Physical attributes - What is the basic body build of each character? Height, weight, eye color, hair color? What is each one’s intelligence level?

Misc. - What are the characters’ ages or birthdays? Who are their friends? Do they have a spouse, girl/boy friend, or children? What other details would help define the character?

Those basics can provide a solid foundation from which to build. Sometimes it takes a bit to coax the details from our minds - or our characters if we decide to interview them. But the results will be three-dimensional characters who are ready to go any direction you send them.

What other details are important to know about your characters?

I’m also posting at the Insecure Writers Support Group website on How to Present a Professional Appearance as a Self-Publisher.

50 comments:

Laura Marcella said...

This is a terrific list! I always like to know what happened to my characters the day, week, month before the moment the story starts. It's details that probably won't make it into the story at all, but it helps define who the character is at the start and how she of he will evolve throughout the story.

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Bish Denham said...

If the main character is a child, what kind of school does he/she go to. Is he/she popular or not or somewhere in between. What kind of grades does he/she make? Does he/she like school or not.

YVONNE LEWIS: said...

Excellent post, will look forward to the self publisher post as I am just starting my third book....with a different look.

Yvonne.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great list!

I like to know my characters' greatest fear and their top goal.

Karen Walker said...

The next step in my novel is working on character development so this is very helpful. Thanks, Diane.

Stephen Tremp said...

I sometimes make reference to parents and siblings and childhood family experienced. Good times. Bad times. These can help shape a character.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great list. And I like what Bish added.

Denise Covey said...

This is nicely succinct L Diane. I agree, the more we flesh out our character before we start, even if we don't use half of it. the better our characterisation will be.I will be using this to get myself started for NaNo. Thanks!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Laura, knowing those things really helps.

Bish, great suggestions!

Stephen, yes they can.

Denise, I'm glad it will help you.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Thanks for this list. It's short, clear, and concise. I'm going to save it to use when I begin my next project.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great list! I like to know as much as possible about my characters before I start writing.

Carol Kilgore said...

I like to know what my character doesn't want to tell me ... her biggest secret she doesn't want anyone to know.

Chris Fries said...

I always lean towards character-driven stories, and want to know as much as possible about my characters from the get-go.

One exercise that I sometimes do when "stuck" is to take some of my plot and write a "journal" about it entirely from my character's perspective. It really helps to get inside their head. Or inside my head, where their head is... Or something like that.

Hmmm... Us writers can be a bit schizo, can't we?

Southpaw said...

I start with my premise and a idea of plot, then go to characters. I've developed my "character template" sheet. I'm still adding new things to it as they come up. I like to add special and hidden talents too.

cleemckenziebooks said...

I love "hearing" a distinctive way of speaking and finding out out what a character's greatest fears are.

Robin said...

Love this list. Good idea to apply it to the supporting characters and not just the main one. I thought about my main one as I read this list and knew the answers. Not so sure I could say that about some of the important supporting characters... which tells me I need to think about it some more!!!

Johanna Garth said...

I always try to picture my characters at a party. What kind of person would they be? In the corner, by the buffet, surrounded by friends?

Sarah Allen said...

Very good post. I feel like my main characters are often, in some sense, a warped extension of myself. As in, I take one aspect of myself that I morph into the character. I don't consciously do it that way, but when I'm done and look back, that's often the way it is. I think it's true that all of our characters are really only based on ourselves.

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Great post. :) I usually get my story idea first, but then I think about who would be in that story. You know? Knowing the characters always comes before the first words for me. :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I always make notes on what the character's problem is. Perhaps what their challenge is, their goal or whatever will drive them throughout the story.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Carol, I bet you have to beat it out of her.

Chris, the journal idea is a good one.

Robin, it's easy to forget the secondary characters.

Johanna, that would be fun.

Sarah, there is a little bit of me in all ten of my main characters.

M Pax said...

I usually like to write little stories before the novel opens about my MCs. Even with that extra knowledge it can take me 1/2 a first draft before I truly get to know my MC. Series are easier that way, because I already know most of the characters.

J E Oneil said...

Nope, nothing to add. I think you pretty much covered everything there :)

Mel Chesley said...

My characters tend to have quirks. Either something they do over and over, or say. I try to come up with everything you've listed here, makes writing them that much easier. :D

shelly said...

How about what their hobbies are? Political views?

Lynda R Young said...

I'm building a few characters at the moment, so this list certainly helps!!

Rhonda Albom said...

My teen is doing NaNoWriMo and has been busy doing character development in preparation for days. I am sure this will help. Thanks.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I never know my characters in that much detail. Maybe I should... Maybe it shows in my work!! :-/

Jennifer Shirk said...

I like to find pictures of my characters now so I have a clear view. I know a good amount of traits and some come up as I'm writing.

Julie Luek said...

Great list I like the idea of fleshing out the characters, even the minor ones, as well as the setting. Seems like it would keep the writing more vivid.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Good things to consider, Spunk. I never thought about characters' birthdays, for example. You can move in many directions with just one nuance of character. Thank you for the helpful perspective.

Be well.

xoRobyn

LD Masterson said...

I try not to design my characters. I like to meet them somewhere and learn about them little by little. Of course, sometimes I'm in the middle of a story and learn something that changes what I've already written. Don't you hate it when that happens?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Shelly, political views are good.

Jennifer, I've always used pictures, too.

LD, yes!

J Q Rose said...

I always know who my mc is before I start the story. I like the specific detail you listed in the post. It will help round out a character, but I would want to be flexible with the info if I need to in order to make a more interesting person for the reader. Really enjoying all the comments filled with tips and thoughts on writing. Thanks.

E.J. Wesley said...

I don't tend to use character outlines for my main character as they tend to come fully-formed in my head. But I do use them for secondary characters quite a lot. If they don't spend a lot of time on the page, it's easy for me to forget who and what they're all about. :)

klahanie said...

Hi Diane,

I also prefer to design a character first and then see what transpires from there.

I agree that attention to detail are basics that should be realised. Of course, one of my latest main characters in "Ann Tagonist."

My characters can display the other side of their personality that they only reveal within their own home and not the outside world.

Excellent info, Diane. Thank you.

Gary

Medeia Sharif said...

I need to know about their past, especially the part from before the start of the story.

Susanne Drazic said...

This is a great list. I have that Personality Plus book by Florence Littauer. I'll have to dig it out.

Karen Lange said...

Great stuff! As a reader and a writer, I have come to learn just how important all these elements are. Teaching a flash fiction class to teens as we speak, trying to get this across to them. :)

Gwen Gardner said...

I planned my main character with a profile, but she really evolved after I began the writing. She told me who she is.

Yvonne Osborne said...

I usually start with a scene, an action, an event and go from there, building the characters as I write. Physical attributes are, of course, important as is background and upbringing. How they got to where they are in life.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

JQ, you can always change it!

Susanne, it's a wonderful book! Excellent for dealing with people, too.

Ella said...

Hi L.Diane! This is great-I love all the details you shared~ Thank you so much!

Heather M. Gardner said...

Being an annoying pantster I don't normally write down all my characters attributes but I find it more helpful the older (and dumber) I get. :)
The character's job can also make a big impact on the character and the story.

Great post!
Heather

Michelle Wallace said...

This is a great list Diane! Really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Arlee Bird said...

I've never done the interviews, but I make strong mental outlines of each character I write about so I get to know them very well.

Lee
A Faraway View

Sherry Ellis said...

These are good tips for helping to develop your characters!

Connie Arnold said...

This is a good and helpful post with great tips on building characters. Thanks, Diane!

Lynn said...

Great list Diane. I do also like to know the hobbies of my characters too, including what music they listen to, and books they like to read.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dianne .. I certainly like to feel there's 'a whole' to the characters I'm reading about .. and can feel let down ..

Fascinating read and I'll be over to read your ISWG post .. cheers Hilary