Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday's Writing Tip--Your Story People

For the month of May, I thought for the writing tips we'd discuss your story people--your characters.

Creating characters to people your story can be a bit intimidating. You don't want stick figures numbly walking through your plot just doing what you want them to do. Don't get me wrong you need control, but there's a trick to it. And it has to do with characterization and building believable characters readers will see as three-dimensional. They can't be all good, nor can they be all bad. 

There are specific points to cover while creating a character, and we'll talk about one each week:
  • breathing life into your characters
  • giving your characters knowledge
  • making your characters appealing
  • controlling your characters.
Today we'll tackle breathing life into your characters.

In life no two people are alike, so it should be with your characters. All of the characters in your book should have a life of their own. They walk differently, talk differently, and think differently. It's the differences that set characters apart. You need to make certain that when a particular character is on stage that your reader will know who he/she is. To do this you must:
  1. give your character a commanding presence
  2. make sure his/her presence fits the role
  3. determine whether your character complements other characters
  4. give your character appropriate identifiers that fit him/her.

Giving your character a commanding presence means to give them a trait to be remembered. i.e. busybody, shy, outgoing, rude, fun-loving, etc.

Making sure your character's presence fits the role means to make sure you don't have a main character who is rude and suddenly he becomes very thoughtful with no motivation.

Determining whether your main character complements other characters means to make sure the commanding presence of your characters aren't the same. You shouldn't have four shy characters. Remember contrast makes characters memorable.

Giving your characters appropriate identifiers means to have their actions fit them. i.e. a shy character may hide her face behind a lock of hair, bite her lip, or chew her fingernails.

Can you think of other ways to breath life into your characters? 
I'm sure I've only scratched the surface. I'd love to add more to the list.


  1. I think a good way to define your characters is to have them all use dialogue just a little bit different so they each have their own voice. At least that's been a good place to start.

  2. Carolyn, that's an excellent point. I think it follows along the line of giving your characters identifiers so your readers know who they are. As you pointed out, dialogue does that very nicely.

  3. I really like this post! I'm constantly shaping and developing my characters. When I read, characters are what draw me in. My favorite novels have the most memorable characters, and I strive for that, too.

    I think you've nailed it with your four points. The only thing I'd add is a distinctive dialogue voice, so the reader would know who was talking even if there wasn't a dialogue tag. But I suppose that could be a subcategory of #4.

  4. Interesting post.

    I think one way I'm trying to breathe life into my characters is to figure out how they move. Do they figure? Are they unusually still? People are not stationary beings.

  5. Great post Kathi. I love the identifier. My MC, chews her lip when she's nervous.
    I need to apologise too. I thought I was following your blog, until I realised your updates weren't coming up in my reader. Rectified it now though!

  6. I often use actions to showcase emotions. I also have some of my characters have odd pet phrases that they use a few times (not too many) to give them a bit of personality.

  7. Great point, Laura. I, too, think it belongs under subcategory #4. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  8. Dominique, figuring out how your characters move can be a challenge. And you're right, people are not stationary, in fact, some can hardly hold still. I remember one of my characters had a limp and used a cane. That was interesting to write. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  9. Lindsay, I like the chewing the lip tag for a characters. An action like that shows so much in just that simple action. I'm glad your following now!

  10. Jemi, pet phrases are awesome to show personality. And sometimes actions are worth a thousand words. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  11. Great post, Kathi. I try to give each of my characters some odd little idiosyncracy that makes them memorable. :-)

  12. Shannon, love idiosyncracies for making memorable characters. That goes on the list. :0)



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