Characters Who Come Alive

You may have thought of a fantastic plot and now you are all powered up and ready to write. But stop a minute. First you need to consider your characters; are they real, complex and believable? If not, let's look at some ways to get your characters to literally jump off that page!

Sherlock Holmes(121725)Credit: Wikipedia

Sherlock Holmes

There are certain books that you read, where the characters are so real and convincing, that it is difficult to believe that they don't exist out there somewhere. Ask yourself, what would Gone With The Wind be like without the scheming yet beautiful Scarlett O'Hara? And how is it possible to imagine Harry Potter without some of the wonderful characters, like Ron Weasley and Albus Dumbledore?

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian DumbledoreCredit: Wikipedia




Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Fictional characters, in order to be convincing need to be complex, like real people. Nothing is more off-putting, when reading a book to encounter characters who are all good or all bad; such people simply do not exist. And as characters are the vehicles which will drive your story forward, you really need to conjure up rich, interesting and complex character types. So in order to do this, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

1. What is the background and situation of this character? Why are they in this particular situation and what is their response to it?

2. What is the character going to do next and why are they going to do it?

3. What relationships surround your character and what is the nature of these relationships?

4. Does your character have a goal and how will it be achieved? Will this goal involve a love interest or require some kind of help?

 Character Catalogue

After asking yourself these few questions, it is time to move forward to create a character catalogue. You can easily do this by grabbing an exercise book and writing down the details of your character. You can organise this in anyway you like, but here are some general things to consider.

Appearance- What does your character look like? Do they have brown eyes or blue? Does your character have freckles or long blonde hair? Are designer clothes the apparel of choice for your character? A uniform perhaps?

Traits- Is your character the joyful type? Cynical? Depressed ? Come from a large family?

Family and Friends - Consider if your character is married or single? Acrimoniously divorced? Part of a large social network? A loner? Has pets?

 Setting- What country do they live? Small town? City? Trailer Park? Penthouse? Overlooking the ocean? Messy house? Neat freak?

Enemies and Secrets- Is your character afraid of someone? Can a friendship be repaired? Is your character hiding something? Their past? A marriage?


Creating Those Characters

 A few carefully selected details can really bring a charBlack hairCredit: Wikipediaacter to life. Think about Harry Potter’s scar or Holden Caulfield's hunting cap, which help to create a picture of a distinct individual. This technique can also be used for minor characters, to create an image in the mind of the reader. Think of such details as: chilling gray eyes, long golden hair, chewing finger nails, sighing, accents and booming laughter.

When creating characters, remember to avoid overly stock characters and hackneyed and sometimes insulting stereotypes like: a token black or Asian character in a group of white students, a sibling who is a genius, men with long eyelashes, dead parents, dumb blondes, hooker with a heart of gold, the tomboy, the absent-minded professor, the bad boy, the cat lady, the hardboiled detective, femme fatale, mother's boys, nerds and the town bully. (there are many more).

Try to create characters which are so believable, that the reader can almost see the character's scowling face, hear their Bronx accent, touch their shiny black hair and even smell their perfume. This means that you must continually reinforce the various distinctive aspects which define your character. If your female character has black hair, she may flick the hair out of her eyes when impatient, or pile her hair loosely on her head when feeling romantic. When swimming, the hair may stream out like reeds in the water and when sleeping her hair may seem like a veil.


Names also add individuality and distinction to a character, as well as telling the reader something interesting about them. If the character is of a particular ethic background, she may have a name which signals this. A Scottish male character could be named Angus, or Niall. An Italian female character could be named Bianca or Pia. Such names add another layer of individuality.

Names have also been used in fiction in symbolic ways, to add further information. Cinderella for example comes from the French name Cendrillon, which means "little ashes" and the name Frodo, a character from Lord of The Rings, is from the Germanic  frod, meaning "wise". In the novel Catch-22, author Joseph Heller created Lieutenant Scheisskopf whose name is German for “shithead. The character Winston Smith, in the still incredibly relevant novel 1984, by George Orwell, was created as an everyman character, hence the common name, Smith.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, the rest is up to you.

 "When you choose your friends, don't be short-changed by choosing personality over character. "
W. Somerset Maugham

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