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Lesson 1: Characterization

Lesson 1: Characterization

A Lesson by Actually Orson Welles

Learn about characters.


Every story needs a character. Without it, it's just a biology book!

Creating characters can be pretty hard, especially for those just starting out. I say that the key to writing is imagination. If you let yours work, you can make up some damn fine characters. There are basics that need to be set. These include:

Back Story
Where they are from
Physical Attributes (Unless used in first person perspective, which I'll touch on in a bit)
Career (Unless they are a child)
Relationships With Others

Pretty much, they need to be like a real person unless you're writing fantasy/sci-fi. A character needs to be believable. Remember, they can be plausible but not impossible. Meaning, they can be super unique but not that-could-never-happen-in-a-million-years unique (Again, excluding sci-fi/fantasy).


The age of your character is vital. Without it, the reader can become confused. It can actually jeopardize the allowance of your story in certain genres. Like how a character needs to be over 18 to be a main character in erotica, or else it represents an illegal act and can't be posted. But, I digress. The age helps to establish a plot. A person should be older if they are telling a story after they are introduced. They need to be a certain age for things to make sense. A 13 year old won't be walking into nightclubs and an 85 year old won't be jumping a shark tank.

Gender and Physical Attributes:
Each gender has it's mainstays. A male should be described by their build, muscle mass, facial hair, etc. A female will be a bit more difficult, especially for guys (Such as myself), to describe. They should be given a "Shape", such as "Hourglass". They should be a bit shorter than males, averaging between 5'6" and 5'10" (In my experience). They tend to have longer hair, usually around the shoulders.Remember that a good looking girl isn't completed by just her body, her face should be attractive as well.

Gender can also play into personality to an extent. Unless you want to have crazy situations, the trend is that women are more passive and kind. They can have a quick temper, but can cool down at a certain rate dependent on who they're interacting with. Men tend to be more aggressive and usually fight when challenged (Except for weaklings) yet neutral. This allows for a pallet to make the male however you would like. We'll comeback to personality in a bit.

Also, don't describe your characters like they're in a police report. Make the beautiful girl sound beautiful. Make the soldier sound tough and rugged.

When writing in First Person, don't describe your character too much. People can get carried away while doing so and make the character sound shallow. I tend to describe as I go along, stringing out the character. This is just a word of warning, but work with it as you like.

Back Story:
Characters usually need a back story. It doesn't need to come into play right away, but it should show up. You can't just have someone out for revenge and not let your audience know why!

Where They Are From:
This adds to a good number of things. This will help you show how they act, give an idea of how they sound when they talk, why the are the way they are, etc.

The personality of a character is literally the whole character. Personality can make for some pretty unique people. It shows how they interact with others. But make sure you don't blunder! You can't have a killing machine of a man who never speaks all of a sudden be a ladies man. You can't have the girl who has always been sheltered and never fought a dayyy in her life take down somebody twice her size.

Again, they can be crazy. You have to make sure that you explain your character's personality through their actions and words.

Interests play a very small role. It just helps with the character's personality.

The career of your character is a good way to think of how they would look. If you have a soldier, then he should be in peak physical condition. A waiter or waitress, not so much. More or less, it helps with their style of dress.

Relationships with others:
This is again a key. How the character interacts with other characters can help you show how dramatic, or funny, their life can be. It's not too hard to work with this. Just get characters in mind, and put them into two groups. Main, supporting and secondary. Supporting characters will need to have a specific relationship with the main character.

Secondary (The way I use this term) characters are usually those who aren't so vital to the plot and just provie interesting plot points throughout.

That just about sums up basics for character development. Enjoy.

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Added on January 10, 2012
Last Updated on January 10, 2012

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