Creating Characters

Who Am I?
1998 Tricycle Gallery, London – Selected works from first solo exhibition – Linett Kamala

For me, when a book takes shape in my head, it’s usually because one of the MC’s has rented room inside my mind and won’t rest until I’ve allowed him or her , they or them, to breathe. They come running from the darkest recesses ready to take on the world. I’m just there to give them the transportation, maybe to guide them along their adventure.

My characters come alive, become thinking, feeling entities inside my head. I know them so well that after a few chapters they take over and I just go along for the ride, usually with a few, “Oh, so that’s what you’re going to do, huh? I hadn’t been thinking of that,” comments along the way.

Personally, I feel like to bring a character to life, I want to to begin with as many details about them as I can. Sure, they’re going to evolve, but that’s what editing is for. I’ve had characters start with one personality and show me they were someone else, entirely as the story took shape. You really just have to be willing tot go with the flow.

Trying to force a character into a box they don’t want to be in will only lead to stagnation and a lot of frustration.

Let your characters surprise you, amuse you, disappoint and horrify you. It’s the plunge I’ve taken that has been the most enjoyable and rewarding as I’ve grown more confident in my writing skills. Maybe your heroine isn’t your heroine after all, maybe it’s that secondary character you thought was just coming along for comedic relief, etc. Or, maybe the heroine royally screws up, gets her ass handed to her before she plays to the arch of redemption.

Whatever it is, let it ride. You might be surprised how much better these new paths may be.

As far as character sheets, you name it, I probably write it down. Names, birth-dates, parents,s their birth-dates. Appearance, skin, freckles, blemishes, scars, tics, quirks, likes and dislikes. I’ll even include favorite foods, music, movies, and games.

If it comes to me, I have to put it down. I even try and do a little section on their memories. I may or may not use any part of these character details in the final piece. I just like knowing it’s there. I like knowing my characters.

Do you base your characters on people you’ve met? Parents, siblings, friends, enemies, etc? When it comes to general appearance, I might take a cute identifying marker and apply it where wanted, but overall, they tend to tell me what they look like and I go with it. I’m pretty obsessive about trying to find photos online that capture the overall look of who I’m writing about. In my current novel series, each character has a photo and I keep the photos up as I write. I helps keep in their headspace.

[I never use real photos of regular people, only images of stock, model, actor/actresses.]

How you keep track of your characters is up to you. I know some people keep charts, tables, spreadsheets, and the like. However, I tend to keep mine in a regular file. It reminds me of the days pre-computer when I would fill endless notebooks with characters and story ideas.

I am fairly neat about it, though. I separate by family groups and keep important characters close. I also end up doing sub-groups. For example, in my new series my MC has more than one romantic relationship, and so I have a document titled “Aaela’s Boys.”

In another sub-group I have her extended family, including those unknown to her at this time. It just helps me keep it straight in my head. Which is surprising, since I fall into the organized disarray category of stereotypical creative person with ADD.

How about you? Where do your character inspirations come from? How do you keep track of your characters? Are you obsessively neat or someone who flourishes amid disorder? How do your characters reveal themselves to you?

Let me know down below!

x – H

Creating Character Profiles

We’ve all been there!

When I’m browsing a writer’s group I belong to on FB, I often see new writers asking for tips on how to build their story from the ground up. They have ideas, but they don’t know where or how to start writing those ideas into book form.

Seriously, I would never dream of calling myself an expert, and I’m pretty sure I spend just as much time fielding anxiety as I do getting actual work done. But, I’ve always been someone who enjoys helping others, and I always seem to have answer to those questions, so I thought – why not start writing it down somewhere?

The first thing I’m going to talk about is creating character profiles. I am a huge believer in them. In fact, I can’t get into a story without knowing WHO I’m writing for. Because, I’m one of those writers who’d tell you that I don’t write my characters, they write themselves.

I’m positive that if you’re writing fiction, you already have an idea, the overall story in your head, and the main characters that will feature throughout. Get them down in a file titled something like Working-Title-Here Character Sheet. There are a billion character templates out there, but I prefer creating my own documents. It’s just easier for me. You do you!

The following are some of the things I do for my own books. Keep in mind, I may go a bit overboard, but I absolutely believe too much is better than too little.

  • Tentative Character Name
  • Age/Birth-date
  • Place Of Birth
  • Height/Weight/Eye and Hair Color (Look, you  can go vague with hair and eyes, or go detailed. Depending on the character I do both.)
  • Skin Tone, Ethnicity, etc … 
  • Voice Style (Are they foreign? If so, where are they from originally? If your character is from a place that has many different vocal inflections based on what part of a country they’re from  – use  that.)
  • Where do they live now?
  • Who are their parents?  Siblings? (If they’re in the book, they’ll each get a character sheet, grouped with the MC.)
  • Are they in school? What grade? If they’re college, what classes would they be enrolled in? If an adult, do they work?  What kind of  work do they do, etc..
  • What are their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, etc ..
  • Do they have any notable tics/habits?
  • Do they have mental illness of any kind – if so, what type, and why?
  • What is their backstory?
  • Where are they at in life Right Now? 
  • What is your tentative story arc for this character?

Keep in mind, you can revise, add, and change your notes, as needed.

I do this for each and every character in my books, right down to the some of the more interesting passive characters. I may not go as in-depth on a tertiary character as I do a main or secondary character, but I still like having that background feel for them. In my mind, you can never know when you might want to reference something in passing, or when you might want to pursue an avenue you hadn’t had in mind at first.

I begin with these basic ideas and as I write, and the character takes life in my head, they inevitably begin to tell me their story. I don’t force a character into a mold I dreamed up. If they’re telling me to go through door B even though I planned on door A for month, I go through B.

I love writing character sheets. The reader may never know that the character once fell of their bike and that’s where the small cut on their knee came from. But, for me, it just helps to flesh out this character and allows me to get a better understanding of who they are and how their story might unfold. I revise and update throughout the entire writing process.

Don’t be shy with your characters. I remember in the beginning feeling almost embarrassed for having so much information on my characters. Each book I write is my baby. Wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about your baby? Of course, you would. So, don’t be shy. No one needs to ever see your character sheets but you.

The more you find out about your character, their likes and dislikes, their quirks, their heartbreaks, their achievements, etc., the better you’ll capture their voice. It will begin to come naturally to you and before you know it, they’re dictating, and you’re simply ghost writing.

This is just a little taste of what I do to prepare to begin writing a fiction novel. Stick around – there’s more to come.

Until then – Keep Writing!