Creating Characters

Building Character Profiles

Creating believable characters starts with giving them distinct personalities, appearances and backgrounds. Consider the following aspects:

  • Personality – What are your character’s traits? Are they outgoing or shy, optimistic or pessimistic, kind or cruel?
  • Appearance – What does your character look like? Consider their age, height, build, hair and eye colour, and style of clothes.
  • Background – Where does your character come from? Think about their upbringing, education, family and past experiences.

Create a character profile for each of your main characters. This can serve as a reference as you write your story. For example, let’s look at a table of character profiles for the main characters of a hypothetical crime novel:

Character NameAgeOccupationPersonality TraitsKey RelationshipsBackground
John Smith35DetectiveObservant, patient, slightly cynicalPartnered with Detective Lewis in the police force, estranged from his familyGrew up in a rough neighbourhood, witnessed a crime at a young age
Emily Lewis32DetectiveQuick-tempered, intelligent, compassionatePartnered with Detective Smith, close to her younger brotherRaised in a middle-class family, both parents died in an accident
Rachel Johnson28JournalistAmbitious, curious, persistentFriend of Emily Lewis, has a complicated relationship with her editorSingle child, left a small town to pursue her journalism career

For each character, we’ve outlined their age, occupation, key personality traits, their relationships with other characters and their background.

Revealing Character Traits

Show, don’t tell. Rather than directly stating your character’s traits, reveal them through dialogue, action, description and inner thought.

Dialogue

What a character says and how they say it can reveal a lot about their personality.

  • Example: Tom said, “I don’t care if it’s raining, I promised that dog I’d take him for a walk and I will.”

This dialogue suggests that Tom is a person of his word and cares about his responsibilities, indicating his reliability and kindness.

Action

How a character behaves in different situations can show their traits and values.

  • Example: Despite the heavy rain and cold wind, Tom put on his jacket, picked up the leash, and stepped outside with the dog.

Tom’s actions here show his dedication and resilience, highlighting his commitment to his promise.

Description

How other characters perceive and react to your character can provide insight into their traits.

  • Example: Tom, with his old, patched-up raincoat and worn-out boots, wasn’t the type to shy away from a little bad weather.

The description of Tom’s worn clothing suggests he is not overly concerned with appearances and might prefer practicality. It may also imply that he’s not particularly affluent.

Inner Thoughts

Sharing a character’s thoughts and feelings can give readers a deeper understanding of their personality and motivations.

  • Example: Tom looked at the eagerly wagging tail of the dog and thought, ‘A little rain never hurt anyone. Plus, how could I say no to that face?’

Tom’s thoughts here provide further insight into his kind-heartedness and his ability to find joy or humour in challenging situations.

Developing Characters Over Time

Characters change over the course of a story. This change could be in their personality, beliefs or relationships, and it’s often a result of the experiences they go through in the narrative. This evolution makes characters more realistic and relatable, as it mirrors how people change and grow in real life.

There are two main types of character development:

  • Gradual Change – This is a slow and steady transformation that happens over time. For example, it could be a shy character gradually becoming more confident, or a cynical character slowly learning to trust others. 
  • Significant Transformation – This is a dramatic change that’s usually triggered by a major event or turning point in the story. For example, it could be a timid character becoming brave after a life-threatening experience, or a selfish character becoming generous after a profound loss. 

As you plan your character’s development, consider what type of change they will undergo and what experiences will trigger this change. Remember, the change should be believable and consistent with the character’s experiences and the overall narrative.

Driving the Narrative with Character Motivations and Conflicts

A character’s motivations and conflicts should be closely tied to the plot. They should influence the character’s decisions, shape the events of the story and drive the narrative forward. For example, a character’s motivation to find a lost treasure might lead them on an adventure (the plot), while the conflicts they encounter along the way (like dangerous traps or rival treasure hunters) create obstacles they must overcome.

As you develop your characters, make sure their motivations and conflicts are clear and compelling. Think about how these elements will influence the character’s actions, shape the plot and engage the reader’s interest. Remember, well-developed motivations and conflicts can make your characters feel more realistic and your story more engaging.

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