“Creating Characters” by Roo

Greetings!

Here is the long awaited character creation guide! Enjoy! ^^ (It’s also my 20th blog post! Hooray!)

Edit: I don’t know why some titles of sections got sooo huge =( if anyone knows how to fix that text, please let me know ><

Introduction

Are you writing a novel, but having issues with making your characters believable? If you are, this guide can help you make interesting characters that stay with the reader long after they have closed your book. Your goal with making characters is not to simply have someone to follow through the course of events in your story. Your goal is to make the text on the page something of flesh and blood in your mind; a living creature with drives, motives, emotions. You want your reader to fall in love with them, and wish there was more about them when their story is over. You want the character to become like a friend (or an enemy, if that’s what kind you’re making) to them. If your reader feels sad when your main character is emotionally hurt, and happy when good things happen to them, then your task is complete. This guide will cover making your characters believable, along with interaction with other characters and the concept of basing a character off of a character used by someone else, so I hope you enjoy it!

Naming: The Most Important Factor

 

            Naming means a lot. It’s usually one of the first things a reader hears about a character, and can tell a lot about them. Take extra care naming your main character, since it will be something you will be using over and over again. When naming a well-used character, ask questions to yourself. Does he like his name or does he hate it? If he hates it, what kind of nickname did he give himself so he doesn’t have to use it? If you were naming a funny character, you could either go with a silly name, or something serious that he has a nickname to cover up for. For example, if someone who is comic relief in a story was named Mortimer, it would be a little strange. Perhaps he prefers to be called Mo instead. That’s a bit more fitting for the type of character he is. On the other hand, you don’t want your dark villain to be called something like Twinkles or some idiotic sounding name like Durf. Also, be careful if your story is similar to a well-known book, like if your story is about a school, don’t name your main character Harry. That would be a bad, bad, bad idea.

In a fantasy story, it’s also a good idea not to use earth names (unless your character is human and they follow the same naming procedures), try to make unique fantasy-er names. For example, imagine reading Lord of the Rings and suddenly coming across some elf named Rodriguez amidst all the fantasy names. It doesn’t sound that great, does it? Even with pets of characters, you want to be careful with something like that.

Naming a main character needs extra care. With lesser (but still main) characters, you still want to take a lot of care, but not quite so much. Lesser characters that rarely enter the story can be named with less care, but you don’t want everyone to have stupid names, since it will give the wrong impression. When naming your main antagonist, you don’t want him to have a name that makes him sound entirely stupid, like Blerf, Globthok, Merf, Bloff, Gurf, Wubbles, etc. Typically names ending in f are a bit more silly or stupid sounding because of the sound you end on. Sounds like the u in “dumb” and the sound (which could be made with either an e or a u) or the vowel in “Derp” make your say sounds that typically are associated with stupid to pronounce the characters name, and thus give off the impression of stupidity.

There are exceptions to these, however. If a certain race’s language or culture controls their names to sound a certain way, then it can fit the character, but you still have to be a little careful. For example, if an orc language incorporates a lot of guttural sounds, or harsh sounds, a name like Kargoth or something like that can fit them pretty well. But a gnome named that would just be really strange, unless their language was the one with the guttural and harsh sounds, in which case it would be all right. You just really need to pay attention to the culture and languages surrounding the character, and name them according to that and what fits them.

The other exception is when the vowels previously mentioned flow nicely with the rest of the name. In many books, Elven names incorporate vowel sounds like that, but you don’t notice and it doesn’t give off the stupid vibe because it flows very smoothly with the other sounds in the name. If the only vowel in a name is one of those mentioned, it would probably be a good idea to seriously reconsider your name, unless it is, in fact, for a silly, not-so-bright character.

Personality: Who Am I?

 

            Another massive factor in creating a believable character is their personality and outlook. Basically, the main substance of who they are; what their name reflects. I usually gather personality factors before naming a character, because it helps make the painful naming process much easier. To create a believable personality, remember these guidelines.

Motives and drives

Attitude

Good Characteristics and flaws

Favorites

Habits and quirks

            Make sure each character has these. If they don’t, they aren’t a fully 3-dimensional character, and are lacking in the reality department.

Motives and drives: Why is your character doing what he is doing? Why is he going on this quest? Before you can start writing, you need to know WHY your characters are doing what they’re doing. If they lack motives, or have very weak ones, the story is going to be very dull. If your main character’s only reason is that he doesn’t have a reason, or he just wants to follow someone, he has useless motives. No one wants to read about a character who just wants to follow someone else around. On the other hand, if his motives are to help people by driving an evil force back, or to escape the dull town life and seek adventure, then you have something special, and you can start rounding out your character a bit more. Remember to give them reason behind their motives, instead of just putting one up and saying “Yup, that’s why he’s leaving on an adventure.” If you don’t have reasons behind the motives, you need to either rethink your character, or give them some backing. Drives are the same way.

Attitude: What kind of outward attitude does he have? If he optimistic or pessimistic? Introvert or extrovert? What are his priorities? Again, just like drives and motives, your character’s attitude needs reasons. Is he pessimistic because his childhood was hard on him, and now he still thinks that everything’s going to keep not going his way? Are his priorities himself before everyone else because his opinions were always ignored, or simply because he’s very big-headed and full of himself? Attitude is very important, and can change over the course of the story. For example, a character could start out very negative and pessimistic, and by the end of the story be an optimistic, positive thinker, because of what happened through the course of the book. Attitude is important. It greatly effects interaction with other characters, either in a good or bad way.

Good characteristics and flaws: This section is often a very difficult to fill out for a hero of the story, or even the villain. Remember that everyone has flaws. Even superheroes have things they struggle with. Good characteristics is what makes the character worth reading about; What makes him a likeable character. Flaws help remind the reader (and you when you’re writing) that your hero is not some sort of mortal god, but, in fact, a flawed being like everyone else. No one wants to read about pristine characters. They want something to relate to. Also, flaws help create issues and roadblocks that the main character (or group of main characters) have to either help each other over, or get past on their own. For example, in a book of my own, there is a character who is very loyal, optimistic, and helpful to his friends, but greatly struggles with dishonesty and kleptomania. While he has some strong good characteristics, he also has very serious flaws that tend to lead to issues during the course of the story.

Favorites: For me, this is a very fun section to fill out for a character. It gives them a personality all their own. For colors, books, and music that they like or dislike, remember to give them reasons. A character without good reasons is a blobby mass of useless text. Favorites can also help readers identify with the character, but they mainly just help flesh out their personality very nicely.

Habits and quirks: In other words, what makes your character unique? Habits can be either good or bad, and quirks sets your character apart from the generic crowd of characters for whatever genre you’re writing in. They make him either loveable or annoying, funny or serious. His habits can either get him in trouble or save him from trouble. They’re also like favorites, where it helps readers relate to the characters and they help flesh out the personality.

Appearance: What Do I Look Like?

 

            Appearance is another favorite of mine to fill out. It’s often the first information about a character you are given when they walk into the room, and helps give the first impression.

For a hero, remember that they don’t always have to be tall and handsome with perfect skin and hair. Instead, he could be a man with an eternal “just woke up” look who isn’t considered the most handsome guy around. Often times we run across heroes that definitely don’t fit the first description.

For a heroine, remember that she doesn’t have to be the most beautiful maiden in the land. Instead of being a runaway princess with long, golden hair, she could be a skinny street person with scraggly black hair and a scar on her shoulder.

Don’t rule out any possibilities for your main character, unless you have a perfect image of him in your mind before you start writing. You can often find the best option for your main character in the most unlikely places.

After getting the basics down, like “What does his hair look like? His skin?” “Is he even human?” you get to tackle how they view themselves. Do they like what they look like or do they hate it? If they do or don’t, you still need a reason. If he doesn’t like it, is it because he didn’t like his father, and he thinks he looks like him? Or does he like it because he reminds himself of his grandfather, who he looks up to? Give them unique things that set them apart as well, like birthmarks or scars. If they have a scar, remember to have where it’s from. Even if you never end up using this information in the text of the novel, you have it just in case you do need it, and if anyone asks you a question about it, you don’t just stand there doing a top-notch goldfish impersonation while you try to think of something.

Background: Why Am I Who I Am?

 

            Background is a very strong factor for creating a believable character. It helps give them reason for actions, and also helps define the personality. Go over everything from family to school to just a few days before the story starts. Family can help show why they are optimistic or pessimistic, open about everything, or have a wall around their heart. It also helps determine how they will relate to other characters in the story. Education gives you reason for if they can read or write or not, and things like that. Ask yourself questions like “What was his relationship with his family?” “Did he learn how to read and write?” “What events occurred in his past that still affect him now, and is the result emotional or physical effects?” Asking yourself in-depth questions about your character can help you make an in-depth character. Background can be difficult, but the result is a well-rounded character that has motives and drives. It and personality govern many of the character’s reasoning and actions, and you can decide how they would react in certain situations a lot easier if you have it figured out.

Character Interaction: Difficulty for the Beginning Author

 

            Interaction between characters can be tricky if you don’t know your characters well. Dialogue is often difficult to make interesting for the beginning author and is frustrating at times. Just keep in mind your characters’ personalities and how they would react to comments. When writing dialogue, also think about what mood they are in, what events recently occurred for all of them (unless the character is like a bartender or storekeeper who’s in the book for a few sentences, then you just have to think of the first thing) and if they like the character they’re talking to.

Other interaction includes if you have a group of main characters that you’re following. Don’t have too many characters together all the time, as it becomes easy to forget that someone is there. If you want a group of characters, anywhere from a pair up is all right as long as it doesn’t get overwhelming for you, or for the reader. Reading a book with twenty characters constantly together can get confusing, unless that twenty is something like an entertaining troupe with several main characters and the rest merely high supporting characters. Be careful with this.

Also, if you have a group of main characters, you want to be very cautious with what personalities and intellectual capacities you put together. If you have a group of bumbling morons with a single intelligent character keeping them in line, it can be frustrating. Make sure to mix a group of the smart and stupid together if you’re going for a funnier book, or intelligent people with a comic relief character or two with them to keep it from staying too serious. You don’t want five out of your main group of seven to be stupid or insanely goofy, unless you’re trying to write a book with not even a speck of seriousness in its pages.

Character Template: A Nice Way to Organize Your Character

For a simple way to make new characters, you can use a character template with questions that you fill out. I use one of these, and can produce nicely fleshed out characters very quickly. After writing the characters into the template, you can either expand it further, or leave it, depending on what you want.

Below is the template I use. You can copy and past it into whatever writing program you use, or even write it down. There are alternate “Appearance” sections below the main template for if you are making a character sheet for a furry creature, or an amphibious/reptilian beast instead. Don’t forget to read the paragraphs after the template! ^^

I think this template (other than the alternate appearance tabs that I made) originally came from Elfwood. A friend gave it to me, and can’t remember where he found it, so if you can find the original author, please let me know so I can give them credit ^^

Character’s name here

Date this form was created:

Full name of Character:

Reason, meaning or purpose behind the name:

Nickname:

Reason for nickname:

Race:

Occupation/class:

Social class:

 

Physical Appearance

 

Age:

Birthday:

How old they appear:

Eye Color:

Glasses or contacts?

Hair color length and style:

Weight and height:

Type of body (build):

Skin tone and type (i.e., hairy, slimy, scaly, oily, fair, burns easily):

Shape of face:

Distinguishing marks (dimples, moles, scars, birthmarks, etc.):

Predominant feature:

Is s/he healthy?

If not, why not? Or why are they healthy?

Do they look healthy? Why/why not?

Favorites

Char’s favorite color:

Least favorite, why?

Music?

Least favorite music, why?

Food:

Literature:

Expressions:

Expletives (curse):

Mode of transport:

Hobbies:

How do they spend a rainy day?

Personality

Are they a daredevil or cautious?

Do they act the same alone as when with someone?

Habits:

Drinks:

How much:

Greatest Strength:

Greatest Weakness:

Soft spot:

Is their soft spot obvious, why/why not:

If not, how do they hide it:

Biggest Vulnerability:

Background

Hometown:

Type of childhood:

First Memory:

Most important child hood event that still affects him/her:

Why?

Education:

Religion:

Finances:

Family

Mother:

Relationship with her:

Father:

Relationship with him:

Siblings, How many, relationship with each:

Children of siblings:

Other extended family:

Close? Why or why not:

Attitude

Most at ease when:

Most ill at ease when:

Priorities:

Philosophies:

How they feel about themselves:

Past failure they would be embarrassed to admit:

Why?

If granted one wish what would it be, why?

Traits

Optimist or pessimist? Why?

Introvert or extrovert? Why?

Drives and motives:

Talents:

Extremely skilled at:

Extremely unskilled at:

Good characteristics:

Character flaws:

Mannerisms:

Peculiarities:

Biggest regret:

Minor regrets:

Biggest accomplishment:

Minor accomplishments:

Darkest secret:

Does anyone know?

How did they find out:

Self-perception

One word they would use to describe themselves:

One paragraph of how they would describe themselves:

What do they consider their best physical characteristic and why:

The worst one? Why?

Are they realistic assessments?

If not, why not?

How they think others perceive them:

What four things would they most like to change about themselves:

Why?

If they were changed would they be the same person, why/why not:

Would changing of number 1 make them happier? Why/why not:

Interaction with other people

How do they relate to others:

How are they perceived by strangers:

Friends:

Wife/husband/lover:

The Hero/Heroine:

How do they view the Hero/Heroine:

First impression of the char:

why?

What happens to change this perception:

What do people like most about this char:

What do they dislike most about them:

Goals

 

Immediate:

Long term:

How do they plan to accomplish them:

How will others be effected by this:

Problems/Crisis:

 

How do they react in a crisis:

How do they face problems:

Kind of problems they usually run into:

How they react to new problems:

How they react to change:

General

 

Favorite clothing, why:

Least favorite, why:

Jewelry:

Other accessories:

Drives:

Where do they live:

Where do they want to live:

Spending habits, why:

What do they do too much of, why:

Most prized possession, why:

People they secretly admire, why:

Person they are most influenced by, why:

Most important person in their life before story starts, why:

How do they spend the week just before the story starts:

 

Appearance section for Ye Fuzzy Creatures:

 

Physical Appearance

 

Age:

Birthday:

How old they appear:

Eye Color:

Glasses or contacts?

Fur color:

Weight and height:

Type of body (build):

Markings:

Nose:

Shape of face:

Distinguishing marks (dimples, moles, scars, birthmarks, etc.):

Predominant feature:

Is s/he healthy?

If not, why not? Or why are they healthy?

Do they look healthy? Why/why not?

 

Appearance section for them slimy an’ scaly critters

 

 

Physical Appearance

 

Age:

Birthday:

How old they appear:

Eye Color:

Pupil shape:

Glasses or contacts?

Hair color length and style:

Fur (if applicable):

Weight and height:

Type of body (build):

Flesh type (Scales of skin):

Markings:

Shape of face:

Distinguishing marks (dimples, moles, scars, birthmarks, etc.):

Predominant feature:

Is s/he healthy?

If not, why not? Or why are they healthy?

Do they look healthy? Why/why not?

That’s the character template I use, interchanging the appearance tabs to whatever I need at that time. It’s a very in-depth and good template, and you can modify it to add extra questions that you need. (Don’t remove any questions! It covers basically everything that I mentioned earlier in an easy-to-follow form)

Patterning Characters Off Already Existing Ones: Dos and Don’ts

 

            Often times we discover a character in a movie or book that we absolutely adore. We want to kidnap them away and plug them straight into our own books. Unfortunately for those of us lacking imagination, this is considered plagiarism and is generally a bad idea.

If you like a character, don’t just toss him into your book, leaving his appearance and personality and just changing his name by a letter or two. Others who have seen the movie or read the book you got him from will pick up on it right away and not be too happy.

You can, however, make a character look similar to another, such as the same hairstyle, or face shape, etc. Or, you could take scraps of their personality. Of course, you wouldn’t want them the same personality, since most times that would require you to give them a similar background, which would be very recognizable.

Names are usually the worst thing to take. It would be a terrible idea to have your two main characters be called Pippin Baggins and Frodo Brandybuck…people would pick up on that very well, and even if they didn’t, unique names are the author’s own, and it’s rude, lazy, and plagiarism to reuse them, so I wouldn’t advise it. Unless the name is something common-er, like Ronald, Peter, Eleanor, etc. Then the character just nudged you in the right direction to pick a normal name for your own.

Overall, I would not advise taking others’ characters for your own. It’s a much more rewarding experience to put time and effort into making your own, plus they will be more unique and stand out and stay in the reader’s mind. The only exception I make is for appearance and certain aspects of personality (NOT the full thing, though). Names that are unique, like Pippin, Frodo, Gandalf, Mr. Tumnus, and names like that aren’t good to take.

What makes your character special; Why do we care?!

 

            To make your antagonist special, you don’t necessarily need to give them a superpower or a special marking (although sometimes it IS fun to write about someone like that ^^). Just make sure that your main character (or characters) have SOMETHING special about them. Why do the readers care? Why was the story written from this character’s point of view? What makes them unique?

It can be as complex as an ancient prophesy concerning them that they don’t know about that takes them on a whirlwind adventure leading them up to the crucial point in the worlds history, or as simple as that the hero is, in fact, a bumbling idiot who has tripped in on a terrible plan to assassinate the king. Both options and all those in between provide interesting reading, if written properly.

Just remember to give your character something that sets them apart. Nothing ruins a book faster than a terrible main character. This can often be a very difficult part of creating a protagonist, since finding a good “special part” can be challenging. You need to be careful to make it not too insanely random, but also stay away from cliché uniqueness. Be careful here.

Villains: MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

 

            Villains can be a pain. You need to take as much care to make them as when you’re making your protagonist. You need to first decide what level of evilness you want. Do you want them to give your reader a creepy feeling when they read about them, or do you just want them to be icky? Do you want a female villain that’s a devious siren who seduces knights into her lair to slaughter them, or do you want a male villain who uses brute force to destroy miles at a time? Do you want a fellow who uses deception to play games with your hero’s mind? There are so many good options, it can be difficult to decide.

Remember that they need motives just like a nice character. Why are they evil? And why are they a threat? Reasons for evil actions can vary just as much as reasons for a main character’s specialness (see paragraph above). It could have been caused by a traumatic event that was the turning point in the character’s life, or perhaps the way they were raised twisted their mind.

Though difficult to make believable, villains are worth it when you’re done with them. They help make the story good just as much as your main character. Take care creating them.

Conclusion

            So, while creating characters can be a difficult, frustrating, and somewhat tiring task, the results are good and absolutely worthwhile. Good luck writing! ❤

 I hope you enjoyed reading “Creating Characters”! I really hope that it was helpful, too ^^ If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below. Requests for other guides are welcome too =D

Please share with your friends if you enjoyed it! =) Remember that you can subscribe to my blog via email to make sure you don’t miss a blog post too ^^

Talk to you soon!

-Roo

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About Roo

Hi! :D I love books, dragons, fluffy things, and doing cool stuff ^^ Talking to people is awesome. There's more about me in my "Who runs this thing" tab on my blog :)
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2 Responses to “Creating Characters” by Roo

  1. Arudrob says:

    “Even with pets of characters, you want to be careful with something like that.” I am pretty sure that was directed at me. 🙂
    Very nice informative post Roo, this is going to help me a lot. the whole thing is awesome.
    I did find a Typo I believe…. “For a heroine, remember that she doesn’t have to be the most beautiful maid in the land.” I think you might have wanted to say ‘Maiden’ instead of ‘Maid’ because that would make more sense. Anyway extremely useful guide. Thank you!

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