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Creating Novel Characters with Depth

Updated on November 2, 2017
Use picture prompts as images from which to develop a character's physical description. I used this photo in describing one of my new characters Lacey Mayford.
Use picture prompts as images from which to develop a character's physical description. I used this photo in describing one of my new characters Lacey Mayford.

The other day someone asked asked the question. which is more important? Plot development or character development. My answer was that if you do not have good plot but good characters, you have a boring book and if your characters are well developed, but have a poor plot, you will also have a boring book. Therefore plot development, character creation is an important aspect of novel writing.

As an author I want my characters to appear three dimensional, and I don't want my characters to all seem to be alike. I want each one of them to have their own styles. I love it when they seem to take a life of their own. When a character seems to come to life and do things that even I find unexpected, i know that I have done proper characterization. Characterization takes work. Developing my characters usually comes as part of my process even before I develop the story plot.

The process feels less like creating characters as it does revealing the characters. The process reminds me of the story I heard about Michelangelo when he said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” That's the way it feels as I am creating my character sketches. I am simply discovering who the character that is already there..

The Most Important Element in Developing Characters

A Page for Each Character

When I first started writing, I wrote my character sketches out on paper by hand. Now I just give each character at least one computer page. I use the navigation tool which is part of the Microsoft Word program to help keep track of each character. I make the name of each character a heading which makes the name navigable.Whenever I want to work on details concerning a specific character, I simply click on the heading on the Navigation tool. I use at least one page for each character even if that character is a minor character. That way, if I can't remember details about a specific character, all I have to do is click on that character on the navigation tool and it will take me straight to that character's description.This organization helps maintain character continuity throughout the book.

Picture Prompts For Physical Descriptions

What comes first, the plot or the characters? Well, to tell you the truth, I have at least an inkling of what the story line is before I begin discovering the characters. I begin by wondering what kind of character would take part in this type of story line. From there, the characters begin to emerge.

Blonde hair, blue eyes, five foot tall, blah blah blah, Too easily, physical descriptions can follow this vague pattern. It wasn't until I decided to find photographs or paintings to help me create three dimensional physical descriptions that my characters physical descriptions took on more life. By using photographs, I have been better able to keep track of what each of my characters looked. In addition, by looking at the pictures, I am able to create metaphors that are less like the cliches we often use to describe the physical appearance of our characters.

Using Psychological Theories As Building Blocks For Personality Building

Studying psychological theories can help you better understand a character's personality as well as the character's motivation. A character may have an Oedipus complex or may have oral or anal fixations as Freud theorized. Understanding Erikson's Life psychosocial development and use when dealing with people of different age groups to better understand the crises that each character is facing. In addition, recognizing Maslow's hierarchy of needs could help you recognize why a character may have issues. For instance, a character who doesn't feel safe in his or her living arrangements, probably will not have good self-esteem.

Another way to help describe a character's basic personality traits is to use the combinations of the different personality traits as traits of the characters as organized in the Myer Briggs Trait Indicators. Eight essential traits that can be set up in four traits that go together to create a personality type.These traits include dichotomies of extrovert vs introvert, sensing versus intuitive, feeling vs thinking, and judging vs perception.

Creating Character Tags

Based on character personalities and motivations, as the author I am then able to add details that add to each character's uniqueness. Every one of us idiosyncrasies that other people know, but we are often unaware of ourselves. Our characters should also have such idiosyncrasies. For instance, one character might squint every time he is listening to someone else talk. Another may scratch his or her nose every time he or she is lying. These are things that each of the characters, especially major characters.

Character Interviews

Finally, one of my favorite ways of developing characters into three dimensional people is to have interviews with each one of them and ask them about themselves and their relationships with the other characters of the story. In addition, I ask them about who they are, and what they want from their future. I ask each of the characters about his or her past, how he or she arrived at the beginning of the story, In other words, what is this character's backstory? This back story may or may not become part of the novel, but it will add dimension to your character which will be evident in the story line.

Incorporating The Character Into The Story

In these interviews with the characters, I ask each of the characters where he or she anticipates for the plot develop. This helps create what is called a character arc. based on motivations and other aspects of the character's personality, I discover how the plot will play out as this character interacts with other characters. I ask each of the characters this list of questions:

  • What do you want, how do you want the story to end?
  • What do you see are the choices that you make that will keep you from your dream (story beginning).
  • What will you change in this story?
  • What are you willing to do at the end of the story that you were not willing to do at the beginning

Well Rounded Minor Characters

As I write my novels, I work on not just developing major characters, but key minor characters (for instance, sidekicks) as well. I try not to overdo the not so key characters, however, many so called "walk on parts" may require some characterization, that characterization doesn't need to be much more than basic motivation and possibly physical description.Once this characterization is done, the characters will be real enough and be involved in the story enough that I as the writer will be able to sit in front of my computer typing what I see each of my characters doing. The hard work of characterization is done. Now the fun part of writing the story is able to begin.

© 2013 Cygnet Brown


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    • cygnetbrown profile imageAUTHOR

      Cygnet Brown 

      3 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      You are so right DorianGrey, there are so many different tools that we can use to develop characters. Just yesterday I was sitting with paper and pen sketching new characters for an upcoming novel. I think a person is only limited by his or her own imagination when it comes to techniques for developing characterizations.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Very well written Hub, good work :D

      I really enjoyed reading your advices, because creating the characters is my favourite thing about writing at all.

      I especially love to create their weaknesses, some little embarrassing details about them, which they would like to hide.

      Or just put your heroic character in a very awkward situation.

      Sometimes I listen to things like this:

      And then I think about what my characters would feel like in this situation. Just try it, if you want ;)

      Thanks for your great Hub again!

    • cygnetbrown profile imageAUTHOR

      Cygnet Brown 

      5 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      Thank you for your comment teaches12345. Writing about writing helps me sort things out as well!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Very well done and this helps me as a writer to organize my thoughts.

    • cygnetbrown profile imageAUTHOR

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      I wish I could draw. The only way I can sketch is with words.

    • AhalitaMoonfire profile image


      6 years ago from Ohio

      I know my characters, however, I'm kinda like one of those artist, I bounce back and forth from art to writing, so I hit mild stones of blocks, where I get stuck in a writing and so sketching slowly but surely helps reopen my writers view and viversa

    • cygnetbrown profile imageAUTHOR

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      AhalitaMoonfire, I find that getting to know my characters helps me avoid writer's block. Once I know the characters, I can simply sit back and write what I see the characters doing.

    • AhalitaMoonfire profile image


      6 years ago from Ohio

      This is all wonderful information, I defently have to keep this in mind, when I get over my little writers block. So that I can contuine with what I been writing for a book as well as a comic.

    • cygnetbrown profile imageAUTHOR

      Cygnet Brown 

      6 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      You are too kind, Bill! I hope you're having a great day! Congrats again on your hub pages recognition!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Indeed...I can think of quite a few writers who I hope read this. :) Well done my friend.


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