How to Create a Character for a Story or Novel
Who is Filling the Hot Seat?
Keep all Your Character Information on Record
First and foremost write everything down about your character. Keep it in a paper file or on your computer.
You will need to refer back to your notes to ensure consistency of information throughout the whole piece of writing and off course you will keep adding to it continually as your character expands and grows.
Write With Descriptive Words and a Empathic Heart
My Example Plot
Purely for the purpose of this hub and ease of showing what I mean, I want to use the following bones of a plot, which shows the beginning of a much longer tale. This will help us to visualise exactly the type of character we need to bring to life:
The boy was born with very special parents. He was unaware of this.
He was given up for adoption at birth, to stop the family genes from activating.
Which was the normal code of practice within the society which governed his kind.
He lived with his human parents, trying to belong and fit in. He never quite did. Too emotional, too strong willed and too inquisitive.
He worked in a garage as a motorcycle mechanic and hated his job.
He runs in the evenings for fitness and to escape the questions sprinting around his head.
He kept trying, his adoptive parents tried and the years slid past in a somewhat tense and slightly uncomfortable haze.
He was twenty one when the dreams started. The dark haired woman with the brown eyes, calling on him to go home.
That is when it all began...
Starting With a Basic Plot and Setting
So after many long moments of deliberation, frustration and ultimately euphoria, you have the bare bones of a plot. Not just any old plot but a very fine one.
Now that you know roughly what is going to happen in your story, and therefore the world that it needs to be set in, you are ready to develop your characters.
By using a character of my own, as an example, I want to show the different stages of their development. Using this example should hopefully make it much easier to illustrate.
As you can see from the example plot on the right hand side we have a man who has never really fitted in very well. He is about to find out why. He must then accept and digest that information and swiftly move on to save his true family. Obviously to face this task he must be strong, brave and moral. However nothing is ever that simple and he has other personality traits and emotional baggage which make it difficult for him to find or believe in happiness.
This is just the basics and the beginning. It will give you enough information to create your character and understand how he/she will react to certain plot situations, but it doesn't give the whole picture. As you work through the piece of writing keep on adding to your character file. Recording their past, present and future. Note their schooling, allergies and even their favourite drink and takeaway.
You will soon create a fully rounded character from what was initially only a brief idea on a page.
My Character's Human World
What we Need to Create in my Character's World
We now know the basic plot and we also know that our character:
- Lives in a modern human world.
- There also needs to be paranormal world outwith but with access to the human realm.
- There needs to be ties between those worlds.
- The human world is as we know it with family and normality.
- There is no historical aspect to the novel so it can be set in current times which gives the opportunity to add some well known products to give credulity.
- We need to be wary treading on the supernatural path. We need to make the unbelievable sound as is if could be possible.
- Over embellishment with the supernatural doesn't sit well when supposedly based in our human world.
My Character Must Also Have a Gateway to a Paranormal World
My Example Character's Basic Information
- He is strong, brave and beautiful. We need a name for a hero and a warrior. I will call him Draven.
- We will see flashbacks to his past as we move onwards. But at the novel onset Draven will be twenty one.
- He has dark brown hair, shoulder length and wavy. With dark brown eyes, lightly tanned skin and high cheekbones. His teeth are white and he has dark pink full lips. He has a large tattoo of a phoenix on his left arm and a birthmark on his left ankle.
- Standing six foot four and muscular.
- Above average intellect but due to a low boredom threshold for lessons, his grades were lower than they should have been.
- Strained relationship with adoptive parents. No step siblings or other family. No long term friends and only very brief relationships with the ladies.
- Fundamentally moral and honest. No patience, emotional issues surrounding being given away at birth. Difficulty forming relationships with others due to feelings of mistrust.
- Morally decent but with huge walls surrounding him and keeping everyone else out.
- The only thing he believes in, is himself.
The Character Basics
- Choose a suitable name. Remember to keep in the time period and location.
- Age. The age also needs to be appropriate for the task in the novel.
- Looks. Is the character attractive? We need hair colour, eye colour and skin tone. We need to build a mental picture of the character in our minds.
- Build. Are they strong? Tall? Like their age, their build needs to be task appropriate.
- Intellect. Clever? Normal? Likewise this is task appropriate.
- Family. Any notable relationships. Any history? Conflicts?
- Emotions. Are they loving? Damaged? Happy? The most believable characters will be a mix of everything. Humans are complex creatures.
- Morals. Are they a good person or a bad? Characters need to show good and bad traits or they are wooden and won't come alive.
- Spirituality. Are they religious? Do they believe in the paranormal or a higher power?
- Job. What do they do for living?
- Interests. What are they interested in? Where do they spend their spare time?
- Wealth. Are they comfortable or struggling with money. How does that tie into the story?
Calm Waters Mask Hidden Torrents
My Example of Balancing the Good and Bad Traits
As we know Draven is a good guy. Troubled and complicated but a good soul.
If we were only showing him as full of goodness:
'Draven stared at the woman who had fed him for twenty one years. Although sad she had never loved him, he felt grateful for her sacrifice. It can't have been easy taking a child in and he tried to always remember that.'
This doesn't work. We are all human. We feel and we hurt. It makes Draven flat and uninteresting. Now we will try to show the conflict within his character:
'Draven stared at the woman who had fed him for twenty one years. He looked at her cold eyes and felt the familiar anger rise. He wanted her to feel small and lonely. He wanted her to cry herself to sleep every night like he had as a boy.'
With the second example we can see the emotion, we can feel the pain and we understand why he has turned out the way he has.
Include the Good and the Bad in Your Writing
One thing that is really important in your writing is to remember and balance out the good and the bad within your character. Nothing is ever simple and within every successful story there are hidden secrets, twists and turns waiting for us.
The kindest soul out there with the biggest heart, still has flaws.
Perhaps they talk too much or their breath smells. The epitome of evil incarnate may have a black heart but you need to show some normality or positive traits.
I know this sounds strange but it will create balance in your character.
The good soul will be boring and stereotypical without any personal idiosyncrasies and the black soul will be much more frightening with traces of humanity seeping through their black veins.
Look to the example on the right to see how the balance of good and bad traits affect my character Draven and how it changes our perception of him.
Can Your Reader See and Feel Your Character Through Your Words
The Characterised Conclusion
You have now created the physical, emotional and situational building blocks of your character. Keep adding to this basic file as you move on with your story. The character will evolve and grow with each passing chapter. Just like in real life, experience brings on emotions and reactions and as individuals we all have the power to change and then either stifle or grow.
Think as your character would, how would they feel, what would they say. As time passes you will grow closer to them and their reactions will come more easily.
Thank you for reading and I hope there is something of use to you within these words. With every step you walk with your character and everything you see through their eyes, your own journey as a writer will evolve right along beside them.
Evolve Your Character to Face Their New World
Do you Write a Profile for Your Character?
Do you consciously work out our character's profile?
Show the Broken as Well as the Whole
Is Your Character in Focus?
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Bring Their World to Life
Do You Feel You Now Know Draven?
Do you feel you have got to know our character Draven?
Walk Forward with Your Readers into Your Brand New Fictional World
© 2014 Anna Haven