Writer’s Corner: Creating Characters

NOTE: Every writer has their own system for creating characters. If you don’t already have a system, I encourage you to use this article and other articles like this to create a process that works for you. The following is a (hopefully) simplified explanation of what I do to create characters that are memorable, deep, and well-rounded.

 

Introduction

When it comes to creating characters (heroes, villains, and supporting characters alike) I have a very organic process that allows me to get to know the characters as I write for them instead of planning every detail before I begin. I know there are a lot of authors out there that write out a whole birth to death biography for each of their characters before they even begin to write; however, I’ve always found this method to be very restrictive. What I start out with is a character sheet. Character sheets are great for constructing characters, and can be used as reference sheet for the future—they really come in handy for when you forget a character’s middle name, or birthday, or general back-story.

Below is the Character Sheet I made for the main Character of my Prince of Prophecy book series. This sheet is for the first book—I’ve had to modify a few things on the sheet for subsequent books.

 

CHARACTER SHEET:

 

Name: Destan Gustav Von Diederich

Gender: Male

Age: 12

Birthdate: 03/23/1802

Birthplace: Rosenstaat, Germany

The above sections, I feel, are pretty self-explanatory. Name, gender, age (at the beginning of the book), birthdate (helps you keep track of the time), and birthplace (if it’s important to the story).

 

Height: 4’11”

Weight: 98 pounds

Eye Color: Light blue

Hair: Long, wavy, golden-blonde hair

Skin Tone: Fair

The above section is for general physical characteristics. Give your character an eye color, hair color, and skin tone. Even if you never reveal those characteristics to the reader, it’s good to have a concrete visual image of your characters when you’re writing for them. Height and weight aren’t really important unless you’re writing for a child who grows over the course of the story (my case), or if height and weight play key roles in your book (for instance if you’re writing a novel about a profession wrestler). Again, you don’t necessarily need to mention these characteristics in your writing, but it really helps to flesh out the characters in your mind.

 

Basic Description 1:

Face: Oval shaped face, high cheek bones, defined jaw, plush lips, proportionate and straight nose, large blue eyes, manicured eyebrows, long and dark eyelashes.

Hair and Skin: fair skin, golden blonde, long wavy hair (healthy), usually tied back in a ponytail to keep it out of his face.

Physique: Four feet, eleven inches tall, 98 pounds, skinny but is showing signs of developing muscle mass.

Appearance Considerations: Frequently assumed younger than he actually is due to his height.

Voice: Pleasant, speaks in a clearly audible tone.

The first part of the basic description is solely to flesh out the physical appearance of your character. These details aren’t exactly necessary, but writing out what my characters look like gives my other characters things to notice besides eye and hair color—which can make a story really monotonous if that’s all you list when introducing new characters.

 

Basic Description 2:

General Characteristics: Curious, open-minded, persistent, integral, vital, kind, fair, humble, prudent, appreciates beauty, gracious, stubborn, hopeful, has a sense of humor, tries to follow the rules but often finds himself straying, responsible, dutiful, studious, easily absorbed in ideas, lacks self-confidence, short-tempered, book smart, lacks proper street smarts, courageous, has trouble letting things go, naïve, has a hard time trusting and opening up to people, bottles his emotions, confidence can be shaken with some prodding, imaginative, unable to turn to others for help, susceptible to intense self-scrutiny and self-doubt, an inability to depend on others, charming, oblivious at times, constantly attempts to prove himself, adventurous, risk-taker.

Basic Description 2 is where you really start decide who your characters are. I modified this list over the course of the first book, starting with just a few general characteristics to get the ball rolling (you definitely don’t want to begin your story with this section completely empty or your character’s probably going to be all over the place). As I get to know more about my characters by writing for them, I add more to the list, thereby making the character more well-rounded and relatable. It doesn’t matter how long or short you make this part, just so long as you stick to the characteristics you wrote down during your first draft. On a last not, make sure you don’t put any contradictory characteristics on the list like: brave and cowardly, or stubborn and agreeable—things like that will just trip you up and confuse your readers by sending mixed signals.

 

Bad Habits / Vices: Impatient, short-tempered, does not like sharing his feelings, blunt at times, his own worst critic, sometimes gullible, holds grudges, has a weakness for pretty things.

Phobias / Fears: That he will never be able to be who he truly wants to be, Nicholas, that he will have to marry Klara, his grandfather dying, not being a good king, making wrong decisions, disappointing his friends and family, disease amongst his friends and family, being weak.

Quirks: Hates snow, fascinated by flowers, clears his throat when he’s uncomfortable or would like to change the topic.

These sections are, by far, what I believe to be the most important when creating a character. Some authors forget that in order for characters to be relatable, they must have flaws. No one’s perfect so your characters shouldn’t be either. Besides, who likes a character who always makes the right decision, never makes mistakes, and fears nothing? Give your protagonist a gambling problem, anger issues, a weakness, an insecurity he/she has to overcome, a phobia of water, or flying, or dogs, or cats, or blue birds—anything to make them feel like real people.

 

Character Role: Main hero (Protagonist)

Occupation: Crown Prince

Culture: German Royalty

Cultural Background: German culture is very strict and formal. Germans are hard workers, firm and to the point.

Ethnic Background: German

Native tongue: German

This section is less for your readers and more for you. Filling in these sections will help you decide how much or how little influence a character’s culture and background have on him/her. Doing a bit of research on this part may prove to be very useful and it will definitely help to make your writing more believable.

 

Hobbies: Strolling the palace gardens, exploring the old castle ruins, exploring his secret room, reading, visiting the village, spending time with his friends, playing tennis, pallie mallie, and golf, reading Greek mythology.

Skills: Sword fighting, novice archer, horseback riding, can fluently speak German and French (in the process of learning English), ballroom dance, knows how to play, tennis, pallie mallie, and golf, knows the names of various plants and flowers, adequate at chess.

Deciding what your character is good at and what he/she does in his/her free time also help to make your character more realistic. After all, we all have interests, things we are good at, and things we do in our spare time—so should your characters.

 

Living Arrangements: Lives at the Palace of Rosenstaat with his grandfather, King Gregory.

Education: Homeschooled by his tutor, Herr Christof.

Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual

Family: Gregory Marcellus Von Deiderich (Maternal Grandfather Alive), Nadja Olivia Engelhertz (Maternal Grandmother Dead), Claudius Eisenmann (Paternal Grandfather Dead), Isabella Eisenmann (Paternal Grandmother Dead), Kristiane Margarete Von Deiderich (mother Dead), Klaus Bernhard Eisenmann (Father Dead), Bastian Alfonse Eisenmann (Uncle Alive), Gabriele Brigitta Eisenmann (Aunt Alive),  Philipp Heinrich Abendroth (Uncle by Marriage Alive), Nicholas Sebastian Abendroth (Cousin Alive), Kaspar Johannes Goldschmidt (Step-Cousin Alive), Maria Alexandra Goldschmidt (Step-Aunt Alive).

Relationship with Family: Gets along well with his Grandfather and his Uncle, Bastian. He loved his parents when they were alive and was very close to them; he loves and misses them still. Has a rivalry with his cousin Nicholas—they have never gotten along. Doesn’t speak communication to his Aunt Gabriele and His Uncle Philipp, but gets the feeling that they aren’t very fond of him.

Key Family / Relatives: Gregory, Nicholas *full list omitted for spoilers*

Friends: *list omitted for spoilers*

Relationship with Friends: *omitted for spoilers*

Key Friends: *list omitted for spoilers*

Love interest(s): *omitted for spoilers*

The above section is for a character’s personal information and his/her relationships with his/her friends and family. This may or may not be important to document depending on the story (I’ll leave that up to you), but I like to keep track of things like this—you never know what information you may need to recall as the story progresses. It may also be good to document these things to give your story direction or to develop mini plotlines from.

 

Allies: *list omitted for spoilers*

Enemies: *list omitted for spoilers*

Keep track of who’s on your character’s side and who isn’t—if you have as many characters as I do, trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Key Childhood Experiences: Both his mother and father spent a lot of time with him when he was a child and showered him with love and affection. Both of his parents died from a mysterious disease when he was 7 years old.

Key Teenage Experiences: *omitted for spoilers*

Key Adult Experiences: None yet

Better than reading over the whole character biography, organizing your character’s key experiences will allow you to keep track of what’s important. Use this for information that you intend to revisit frequently in your writing. Be as thorough or as vague as you’d like with this—this is just for your reference.

 

Favorite food: Chocolate cake

Favorite color: Blue

Favorite clothing item: Red Riding Cape (although he doesn’t get the chance to wear it often).

Jewelry: Bellum and a key on a gold chain which he always wears around his neck

Favorite accessories: His father’s sword.

The above section is mostly for fun—you can add these tidbits into your story or keep them out. Deciding upon your character’s favorite things can help you get to know him/her better, thereby making it easier to write for them. By filling this section out you may end up uncovering hidden faucets to their personality (sentimentality, obsessive behavior, immaturity, etc.).

 

Ruling Passion: Living a life he chooses for himself.

Every character should have a ruling person—something that they strive for above all else. Choosing a ruling passion for your characters will help to keep the story focused and moving towards something.

 

Morality / Ethics: Strongly believes that all people should be treated equally (whether they be royalty or not), follows his heart rather than his head, perseveres no matter what (determined).

Use this section to document your character’s morals and ethics—the personal rules which he/she lives by. This establishes boundaries for your characters and lines which they will never cross. Knowing how far your characters will go and how they will react in dire situations is important for many reason. The main reason I feel this section is important is because it helps you to keep your character from acting ‘out of character’ in a stressful situation (that can throw readers off, not to mention annoy them).

 

A Brief History: *omitted for spoilers*

What I do for character bios is write a summary of what happens from the beginning of the character’s life to the start of the story. I wrote Destan’s history after I was finished writing the first draft of the story (which I don’t really recommend). Even if you get to know characters organically by writing for them (like me), it’s a good idea to at least write down a summary of the character’s back-story BEFORE you begin writing for them—believe me, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble on revising the second draft if you do.

 

If you’ve got questions or comments about this post—or if you’d like to contribute your own character creating process—please leave me a message in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

 

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