Friday, August 20, 2010

Fleshing Out Characters

This week, I’d like to talk a little about how to bring characters to life, or in other words how to bring reality into characters.

Every character in our stories deserves the attention of a detailed background whether the lead or a minor personality. They have goals, ambitions, family, and other traits on top of what we normally think, such as eye color and height. Here is a list of the things I fill in for each of my characters. Some are more appropriate than others and I don’t do every single one for every single character. But I do enough to bring out that character’s personality.

In addition, I typically write anywhere from a paragraph to a full page on any given character before starting the story. This brings my mind up to date and helps cement that character before they ever speak a line of dialogue. My hope is that you’ll be able to use these ideas in breathing more life into your own.

External Traits
  • Name: Full name, Nickname
  • Place of Origin: City, town, state, country
  • Race: As applicable
  • Age: In the time scale of your story (years, moons, etc)
  • Sex: (Yes, No, and Sometimes are not the correct answers LOL)
  • General Appearance: height, weight, eye color, haircut (and how the character feel about it)
  • Distinguishing marks: What makes this character more easily recognized compared to the other characters in the story
  • Voice: Is it squeaky, robust, deep, giggly, etc.
  • Occupation: What they do for a living or for money
  • Personal Habits: Dress, manners, etc.

Internal Traits
  • Motives: What drives this character to act the way they do
  • Goals: What do they want (be very specific. World Peace is not a goal. Joining the Peace Corps to feed the hungry in Haiti is.
  • Vulnerabilities: What will cause the character to break down emotionally or physically?
  • Enneagram: As discussed in last week’s blog on personalities
  • Likes: Long walks on the beach, sunsets, ponies, etc. LOL
  • Passions: Name at least one thing the character feels strongly about and why
  • Dislikes: Turn offs, things they just can’t stand to be around
  • Quirks: Odd behavioral habits that are out of the norm for their society
  • Background: Here I write 1 page for a main character and a paragraph or two for a minor character

Character Thoughts
  • Attitude: Main outlook about people or events
  • Self Perception: What does the character believe is their major flaw? What is their major strength?
  • Other’s Perception: What does the character believe others think of them?
  • Parental Influence: How does the character view their parents?
  • Relationships: With love interests and/or other family members
  • School Life: Is the character educated? Where? How was their performance? What is there attitude toward schooling in general?
  • Free Time: Hobbies or personal passions that fill in disposable time
  • Places I've been: Favorite vacation locations, or places this character has been (good or bad) that sets them apart from the rest of the cast
  • Places I'd like to go: Here’s a chance to create some wish-lists for you character
  • People I know: Has the character ever met a famous person? Do they have special connections that other characters might not?

Author Thoughts
  • What do you really like about this character?
  • What do you really hate?
  • What do you plan to reveal about this character that no one else knows?
  • What will be this characters epiphany in the story and how will it change them?

This is certainly not a comprehensive list. Add your own traits, ideas, questions, character thoughts, and anything else you think is appropriate. It’s a lot of work; I won’t lie about that. But it’s worth every moment when the characters leap of the page.

Keep on writing!!

Q4U:  What other aspects of a character do you include when rounding them out?

1 comment:

  1. I've never used a character list. Some writers couldn't do without. I'll jot down some ideas and information about a character in a notebook, a line or two, but that's it.


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