Thursday, December 31, 2015 | By: The Write Way Cafe

Writing Great Characters

The Write Way Café welcomes Augustina Van Hoven, who shares tips for making characters as real as the neighbors.

The heart of any story is its characters.  No matter how interesting or compelling the plot, if the reader doesn’t connect with your characters, they will stop reading your book.

To be a memorable character your creation needs to feel like a real person, someone your reader wants to get to know and care about.  I have found that creating a well-rounded character is a lot like building a house, the first thing you need is a good frame.

I like to begin by casting an actor or actress in the role of the character I need for my story.  This person becomes the basic frame of my character.  The handy thing about actors and actresses is that there are usually lots of pictures of them in various roles available on the internet.  This way you get to see your characters different facial expressions and gestures.  An actor, unless he is playing a character with a physical handicap, will walk a certain way; have a special set to his shoulders, a unique smile.  These are all characteristics I can use to create the physical appearance of my character.  An actor can dye his hair, wear makeup or contacts, and as a writer you can change or adjust any feature of your character.  Remember the actor is merely a starting point.  Any features or changes you make need to be carefully recorded on your character sheets.  Readers notice when your hero’s eyes suddenly go from brown to blue.

The next part of a house is the walls and roof.  For a character it is their personality traits and quirks. A good way to create this part of your character is to assign him or her a birthday and look up the personality traits associated with that day in horoscope books.  This gives you a great list of traits like autocratic, passionate, fiery temper, introverted, sympathetic, a bully, respectful, etc.  You get the idea.  Add to this, skills and talents the character will need to survive in the world where your story takes place and you have a good foundation for his personality.  Don’t forget to add flaws to your characters.  No one is perfect; your character shouldn’t be either.  A real person makes mistakes, has a temper, says something stupid or makes bad choices.  Your characters need to do the same to be believable.

Finally, finishing the interior of the house, for a character, this is backstory.  What needs to happen to your character in the past in order to turn them into the person they are at the beginning of your book?  Each of us has a history of life experiences that have shaped us into the people we are today. It is the same for your character.  The loss of a parent at a young age, surviving a house fire, being mugged, winning the lottery, major occurrences can shape a person in a positive or negative way. The events don’t necessarily need to be traumatic; they can be small like being the quiet one or the smart one in class.  Regardless of what you decide to use, you need to record it on your character sheet and figure out how this will affect your characters actions and decisions in your book.  Unless the back story is significant to the plot, it shouldn’t appear in the book, but you as an author need to know it.

The more you know about your character before you begin writing the easier it is to anticipate how they will react to the twists and stumbling blocks you put in their way.  This also helps keep the story flowing in the right direction and eliminates major edits and rewrites.

A great character is a fictional person who is as real to the reader as the neighbor across the street. Someone she will cheer for, cry with, worry over and want to read about again and again.

Augustina Van Hoven
Proving Love is Strange

Twitter: @augustinavhoven

Augustina Van Hoven was born in The Netherlands and currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two dogs and three cats.   She is an avid reader of romance, science fiction and fantasy.  When she’s not writing she likes to work in her garden or in the winter months crochet and knit on her knitting machines.


HiDee said...

I like the house framework approach. Thanks for sharing your tips, Augustina!

Angela Adams said...

Thanks for the post, and best wishes for a great 2016!

Lynn said...

Great post!