Establishing Characters

Establishing Characters

A Lesson by Dusty

Characters are the thing that makes any story, but they are one of the most important elements in a fantasy. In a story where nothing is real, the characters are what really haunt the reader until they come to life.


Every story has characters, but how do you make one seem real? How can you create a character so human that the reader feels closer to them than their best friend? The answer: Give them flaws. Nobody is perfect. and this should be true even in stories.

Now, flaws does not mean that the brave, selfless, confident Prince Charming has buck teeth, though that would be rather comical. A flaw is moreover a personality trait that we wouldn't normally want to picture in one of our heroes. For instance, nobody ever describes Jesus as being cocky, do they? In the Bible, though he is a Savior, we picture him as the perfect Son of God, whom we can never be equal to no matter how we try, who will be greater than us always. Nobody wants to read about a main character that makes them feel like crap. A reader doesn't want to feel ashamed of their human emotions such as jealousy and stuborness while reading about a character who has no such emotions as these or no weaknesses.

All characters should be susceptible to human emotions. These include greed, lust, envy, rage, pity, apathy, jealousy, a wanting of independence, a sense of defeat, etc.  Obviously, the character should not feel these emotions all at once. Space them evenly throughout the story. Not everything listed needs to be used, your protagonist cannot be a pool of festering human emotions with absolutely nothing to fight them back with. Instead, pair the "bad" human emotions with some good ones, such as courage, generosity, sacrifice, etc. Pick one dominant characteristic for each character if that makes it easier. For yourself, write down what each character is and what their personality is like, and stick to that throughout your novel. Fill in the following for each character and save it somewhere, so that you can refer to it to keep your character constant, believable, and real. For characters that change, you may wish to fill out the chart twice, once for the beginning of your story and once for the end.


Meaning of Name (if meaningful):

Dominant Personality Trait (Trait others see most):  

Other characteristics:

Parents and circumstances of birth:


Race (human, elf, etc.):

Social status (slave, nobility, etc.):


Role in story (protagonist, antagonist, etc):


Name of Partner (Spouse, lover, etc.):

Number of Siblings and names:

History and important past experiences:

Hair color, texture, and length:

Skin color:

Eye color:

Normal style of dress:

Body type:

Special talents:

Normal, everyday talents (ex: singing, etc):

Other important facts:


Have fun with your characters, make them real, alive, feel their heartbeat as you write about them. Best of luck to you all and I hope this helped some out.........


Previous Lesson


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Posted 4 Years Ago

I also agree that this is useful. I try to manifest the flaws of my protagonists both in their actions and through the eyes of other characters.

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Posted 7 Years Ago

This is quite useful :)

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Posted 8 Years Ago

I feel that the best example of the flawed hero is Eddie Dean from Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Eddie started off as a heroin addict, and ended as your best friend.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

I thought this third part was the most helpful. Oftentimes, I have trouble defining what makes a character who they are and this list helped. I'll set right to using this.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Thank you, this one was probably most helpful to me so far. Although the emotions i would give... i wonder if they can really be used for my character... one who has never showed emotion since her parents have been killed... would that really work? I want to have her gain some emotion, but i don't want it to be so much that she's like heroines of stories where they are all cool and tough acting, but there is someone stronger... or they are always lovestruck and such... i want her to be as cold as people believe her to be, where to touch or even look at her sends cold shivers up and down ones spine... no emotions can be portrayed... but i want her to be able to have some... Argh... I'm confusing myself... this character is a bit complicated...

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Very true advise, midear! I do love characters that change, however. I like to watch a fearful child grow into a brave soldier or an angry woman become a docile mother. Elastic versus static characters is key to stories.

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Consistency, both internal as well as throughout the narrative is, I agree, vitally important. Therefore, I was impressed to see that you allowed for characters to evolve, as well as having more than one predominant characteristic: a Hero might from time to time, behave Cowardly; a Thief could potentially be Noble (Robin Hood); a Villain might be the one who saves the day (if unwittingly). It is just such turns as these that keep a story fresh and engaging. Just be careful to avoid stereotyping, and all else will work itself out!
Can't wait for the next Chapters/Lessons! Very refreshing to see such careful thinking in one so young. Keep it up!

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Posted 8 Years Ago

No problem. Glad it helped someone out! Best of luck to you, and let me know when or if you post your novel, I'd love to read it... =)

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Posted 8 Years Ago

Hey, this is actually really helpful! Thank you for all the information, especially with the characters, I've always had trouble with main characters and their personalities. I hope your tips help out my novel.
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Added on December 24, 2009
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