Monday, August 31, 2009

Thinking about Characters...

One of the most important aspects of any novel is the main character. And this is true for both the reader and the writer.

As a reader, if we don't connect with that character in some way, many times we won't continue reading. And as a writer, if we don't like the character, we won't continue writing him or her.

There have been numerous books written on how to create the perfect character and each writer has their favorite way to bring those characters to life. Many writers fill out in-depth character sheets and profiles, conduct interviews with their characters or even write the whole back story for that person.

Others, get to know their characters as they write the story. They choose to be surprised as their character

And, honestly…there's not wrong or way to create characters. It's whatever works best for you and your writing style. I've got some character profile sheets along with interview questions I'll share later on.

But for now, I want to focus on what makes a great character. What it is that draws us to that character.

Instead of pulling characters from books, I'm going with a couple from television since our reading tastes probably vary widely. Two of my favorite characters right now are Temperance Brennan from Bones and Brenda Lee Johnson from The Closer. I love these two ladies and while they are both very different people on the outside, on the inside they have some very similar qualities.

For example, both are very strong women in male dominated careers. They are both determined, almost to the point of being stubborn but they are both honorable and have a strong sense of duty.

Both women also have a complex back story and as the series progresses, we get to see glimpses that history along with how it shaped their personalities.

So…for the next couple days, think about your favorite characters and some of the things you like about them. Maybe make a list of character traits you'd like to incorporate into your characters.

If you enjoy writing books, here's a couple I have on characters. Well, more than a couple but I have this fetish for writing books.:-)

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Dynamic Characters also by Nancy Kress

Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon

Bullies, Bastards & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell

The Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein

Careers for Your Characters by Raymond Obstfeld & Franz Neumann

What Would Your Character Do? by Eric & Ann Maisel

Got any you'd like to share?


  1. You have a fetish for writing books? I never knew. LOL!

    The problem with being a fly by the seat of your pants writer is that I often don't develop my characters quite enough. I've tried the interview route and it helped. What worked even better for me, though, was to have a picture of what that character looks like. I can see what his past might be by the expression on his face.

    While the two of us differ on the use of fanfiction, one of the important things I've gotten out of it is to be able to see how I develop characters who already have a past that I am very familiar with. It has helped me to think about my characters' pasts when I create original characters.

    Thanks for the great post!


  2. I've read some of these books on developing characters, and they are good.

    I'd like to suggest that authors also consider reflecting on their characters' personality types. For two frameworks, look at the Myers Briggs personality types (16 possibilities) or Enneagrams (9 possibilities). I'm familiar with these from my professional life, but you can find lots of books and web information on them, if you're not.

    I'm particularly fond of thinking about my characters as Myers Briggs types -- my current hero is Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging (ESTJ), while my heroine is Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving (ISFP). Their conflicts arise out of their personality differences. I go back to their types when I'm stuck on what they would do in a particular situation.


  3. That reminds me...

    I'll have to find it but at a conference I attened this past April, one of the speakers did a character workshop. I "think" it was on Enneagrams but I'd not swear to it right now. It was really intesting. don't happen to have any links you could share with us do you?

    And finding a pix of what your character might look like is another great way to get to know them too. I like to have a good idea of a characters look in my head as I write.

    And honestly...I don't have much of a problem with fanfiction. It has its you mentioned. My problem comes in when a person takes another writer's characters and warp them into something the original writer didn't intend. But that's just me.:-)

  4. Most of the time, my characters just decide to show up and stare at me until I write them something. :D

  5. I like that idea Theresa. I've heard of the first, but not the other. That certainly sounds like it would be a wonderful way to get to know your characters.

    Thanks for sharing.


  6. Excellent advise, Jean. May I repost this article on my blog, This commonsense attitude toward writing (stuff anyone can master) is something my readers love. Bless you for not talking "down". That is a problem these days, so when I find someone who doesn't, I tend to latch on.

  7. Joylene...and anyone else who'd like...please feel free to repost anything here. It'd be great if you can post a like to this blog but at least let your readers know it's from me.

    And if I ever do talk down to y'all...feel free to smack me upside the head.:-)

  8. sherry heidelberger-blackburnSeptember 2, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    I have known for quite some time now that the MC in my novel was missing something. This morning it came to me.
    Although I know her well, I wasn't putting myself in her place. Actors, really good actors, become the character they are portraying.
    Since she is writing her memoirs from prison, I am going to have to work hard to go to, and stay in that place.

    Just another way that I am finding how important place is as a character.

  9. Start here