Character creation

As author‘s, we spend our days roaming around imaginary worlds and directing imaginary characters through an imaginary story. Nothing is real, and yet, sometimes you may come across a character so lifelike in personality and behaviour that they almost jump off the page. But what makes a fascinating, believable and relatable character? How do we create one? And will doing a bit of character prep before we start writing, make our job any easier?

When I started this journey my main focus was building the world my stories would take place in. The characters driving the story were of less importance, and honestly, all they really had in my head at the time, was a name, age and basic appearance. Eventually I figured out they had to be more than one-dimensional placeholders with little to no personality, history or motivation, but knowing they needed to be more and actually creating some awesome characters wasn’t an easy process.

Some people let their characters grow organically, evolving throughout the writing process in ways that, to me at least, seem more haphazard and driven by circumstance and emotion. This was never an option for me. I am far too fond of plotting and planning to ever allow my characters free reign of themselves and the story they are telling.

And so, I decided to do some research and fell into a well of fascinating characters, realistic characters, flat characters, uninteresting characters, too many characters; character tropes, character archetypes, character stereotypes; character development, character voice and character motivation… The character-related terminology is vast!

Most of what I came across was both interesting and insightful, but there was one very basic tool I found most helpful: the character bio. It felt a little weird writing a bio for a fictional character, but it really did help fleshing out my one-dimensional main characters into living, breathing kids with likes and dislikes, habits, personality traits, skills, a history, motivations and goals. Suddenly I had characters that felt real to me, kids I could imagine living the adventures I planned to write and not only could I see them reacting to the world and events around them, I could see how the history I had created for them would affect their emotions, how their goals and motivations might influence their decisions.

I never really found the perfect template for a character bio, so I borrowed a little bit here and there and made one of my own. My bio contains 5 sections:

  1. Describes their exterior
  2. Describes their personality traits and how they behave
  3. Describes their likes and dislikes, skills, mannerisms etc.
  4. Describes their background – what has happened before we meet them and what relationships do they have
  5. Describes their identity, goals, motivations, values etc.

It may seem like a time consuming process, or even a complete waste of time, but for me, the work I put into writing their character bios was well worth the effort and time spent.

Now, some experts advise going even further with your character creation by interviewing them. This process entails imagining or writing out a conversation between yourself and your character. Many believe this allows you to “hear” your character’s voice and helps you write better, more realistic dialogue. I never really felt the need to do this, but I often imagine the conversations my characters have and in doing so I can tailor their dialogue to suit their personality and the situation they are in.

At the end of the day, whether you allow your character to grow organically as you write or you create a fully fleshed out, believable and fascinating character up front with the help of a bio or interview – your characters need to feel real to you and your readers. If you do this well, you can help them evolve and grow throughout their story and pop them into any situation and have them react in a manner consistent with their personality, motivations and goals. They’ll become characters that jump off the page, ones your readers will relate to, root for, fall in love with or loathe beyond reason. They’ll bring your story to life, and what more could you ask for?

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