Creating a CharacterA Lesson by LadyKarma
A guide of basic advice that can help you when you are starting to create a character.
Every story needs believable characters. Whether you want your bad guy to seem dark or misunderstood; to having your main character be a relatable friend or a confused outcast, this lesson is made to assist your writing needs.
Note: these steps may be taken in any order; they are more like guidelines anyway…
STEP 1: Naming your character
Some people find this the easiest and most fun, while others think this is the hardest and most annoying part.
What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of this character?
Use the web to your advantage; look up names that could have a significant meaning to your character.
For a simple example, Lumiere, (Beauty and the Beast) means light in French.
This also an example of using the character’s heritage to your advantage when naming your character.
If you have an Italian character, don’t you dare name him Steve Smith! There is a world full of fantastic Italian names, first and last! Look up their meanings or any significant historical figures that correspond with them!
Suggested Generator :
*You’re free to look up others!
Keep in mind:
I know JK was just having fun with her names, but try not to have too odd of names (Lovegood?), they may be too distracting or annoying. And if you want to have odd/funny names, try not to have them too long or that many of them.
KEEP YOUR NAMES PRONOUCEABLE
Nothing is more off putting in a book to me then when I read the back and the names give me a head ache.
*Make sure the maker of the generator is okay with you using the name and if you need to add their name for credit.
Every writer is different. If you rather choose the name last, then skip this step for now. I just put this as the first step because I tend to come up with names first, though not always. Don’t feel the need to go in this order of steps!
STEP 2: Personality
This is what I find the best part. It’s where you actually get to create your character. It is the most important yet the hardest part of character creation.
I could go on and on about this area, but for now this is just a basic set of rules. In the future, I will most likely create lessons that go more into depth about this.
Obvious points that should come to mind when thinking about a character’s personality:
a) Hate on Mary Sue
b) The world is not black and white, nor are people
c) Everyone needs a motive
a) Mary Sue
Nobody likes a character that is perfect. Mary Sue is this character. Don’t put Mary Sue in your story.
What makes a character interesting and realistic?
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, all of the characters have “fatal flaws” in which they have to face. These flaws aren't necessarily bad, such as Percy’s which is immeasurable loyalty.
Sure, loyalty is a fantastic characteristic, but too much of anything is unhealthy.
Plain example of friend’s loyalty being a flaw:
One character has to choose between saving her friend and saving the long lost prophecy that contains all answers. She chooses saving her friend.
(Maybe not the best example but you get the point)
b) It’s a Black and White World…Not
This is an area that can be the most difficult and debatable to discuss. I am writing this based on my own opinion; it is your choice to agree or disagree.
People are difficult! They have so many emotions and conflicts internally! What makes a story especially interesting is when the main character is in a constant battle within himself!
They take a minute to wonder who really the good guy is. They are unsure of their personal values as they gain more experience throughout the story.
THE STORY OF GOOD VS EVIL IS OVER USED
Maybe the villain seems evil to the main character but, then would the opposite be true?
I’m not saying to make your main character a terrible person, but to make them have moments that make the reader question, who is he really? Let the reader engage in the character’s internal struggle.
(More on this cliché: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackAndWhiteMorality)
This is probably the bulk of creating a character’s personality. Sure, you have a good name, a detailed picture in your mind, and a list of flaws. But this part is the most basic idea but the most crucial part.
You need to sit down and ask yourself about your characters:
What do they WANT?
It’s not about thinking what they do but about why they do it.
A character’s motive can go hand in hand with their flaw. For instance: a character’s flaw is that they have much pride. This is their motivation as well, their constant need to gain praise and to prove themselves worthy.
This area is totally open for your own thought, so I shall say no more.
For a list of possible motivations of your characters:
(use with caution, it can get distracting)
STEP 3: Appearance
Some stories don’t even include a physical description of their characters. Some only say hair is light colored without even saying the exact color. Believe it or not but: telling a story without a direct physical description is possible.
I just happen to find stories without physical description less fun to write.
If you’re a writer who want to go into depth, I suggest you keep reading.
Let’s start with the basics:
Once you’ve got that down, you know you’re doing great.
Appearance is a great way to give away information about characters. For example:
Her heels matched the color of the giant rupees hanging from her ears.
What have we learned from one sentence?
· The character is female
· She’s probably rich
· She’s bold
· She’s got ears
Another example is saying that a character’s skin is “tan.” This could be used to imply that the character is outside often, meaning the character is active and perhaps out going.
It could also imply that the character is Hispanic, or that the character lives somewhere sunny.
When you’re using physical description, you can be saying a lot without actually saying a lot.
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” –Shakespeare
Looks can be deceiving, as we all know. Use this to your advantage. It can get annoying if the cute character’s personality is equally as cute or the greasy-haired character’s personality is just as…greasy.
There are certain features associated with certain ideas. This is called connotation. Make a paradox and fool your readers with those connotations and stereotypes!
Feedback on most hated clichés of appearance:
"I hate blondness / blue-eyed-ness / attractiveness as a symbol of virtue."
"Blondes good, brunettes and dark-haired women bad."
"I dislike the white / light = good and black / dark = bad. Even Saruman gets stripped of "white" status after showing his evil. Enough, already."
(Taken from http://www.obsidianbookshelf.com/html/fantasyfictionmistakes.html which is a really good source btw)
It’s clear that readers are tired of stereotypes. It goes hand in hand with step 2 and Mary Sue. It’s not to say you can’t have a protagonist with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a virtuous personality. It’s just that, wouldn’t it be more fun and interesting to have a protagonist whom breaks the connotations of darkness and ends up being a really cool person despite not having blonde hair or even have attractiveness?
In my numerous years of reading, I’ve come to lots of conclusions about the impact appearance can have on a reader. One that always stuck out was attractiveness of characters. In most romance books, there’s a gorgeous male character that is cocky. He always gets the hearts of romance readers despite is dick attitude. But what if that character were ugly but had the same personality? I seriously doubt that it would have the same effect. I mean, who would love a cocky, ugly, guy? But even if it’s an arrogant, handsome male vs. an honest, kind but not-as-good-looking male, the arrogant will most likely win. *cough Jace vs. Simon cough* And most readers are okay with that. I just find it interesting how attractiveness seems to always be a priority, despite personality. I wonder if it goes along with the fact that it’s more insulting to be called ugly than if someone were to call you unkind. Just an observation.
Good website for physical descriptions & more:
You could always draw your character out or go to character-creating websites online. Even silly online dress up games could be of help!
Added on October 24, 2013
Last Updated on August 3, 2014
About(aka Rothhood) Hey I'm Alyssa, I'm a student and self-taught writer. I'm working on a lot of writing at pieces at once (bad idea) and balance school work on top of it all (& SATs are coming up) so ..