There are countless parts of the writing process that make you want to tear your hair out. World building? Difficult. Plot? A mountain to climb. But there is a part of writing that feels as intimidating as crafting a good twist: creating characters. Creating your characters can be as easy as throwing some traits together and calling it a day. Creating well-rounded, dynamic characters is more of a nail-biting process. You want them to jump off the page, but still feel like real people in the world you’ve created. When creating my own characters, I’ve found a few tips that have helped me make my characters more dynamic and relatable.
- Research is key
For those who love starting a story blind, this may be a nerve-wracking step for you. However, research can be a useful tool when creating your characters. It’s not just for worldbuilding! If you have a bare bones idea of who you want your character to be, use those bare bones to learn more about your character. This research is very important if you are writing characters in a different time or if they are someone with a different life experience from you. If you want your character to be a suffragette in England during the 1910s, you need to research the ladies of that movement. If you want to write a character who is a part of a community that you are not, interview someone in that community to get an insight into their experiences. The information you gather isn’t something you necessarily have to replicate when creating your character. Instead, use this research as a lens to sharpen your character. It’s like the glasses of writing!
- Character Sheets are (sometimes) your friend
Character sheets are either the bane or savior of a writer’s existence. They can be a great tool, but also a bit overwhelming. A character sheet is a long document where you write down many different facets of your character to help flesh them out. Everything from their favorite color to their morals is on this sheet. It’s a great tool to help you humanize your characters. It’s also a great guide for those times you get stuck writing. How would your character react to a situation? Consult your character sheet and you’ll be able to determine how their reactions will alter the plot. If you’ve tried a character sheet before and got overwhelmed, you’re not alone. I often get overwhelmed by the details you need to use to fill out the sheet. Try filling out some basic information on the sheet as a jumping off point. If you discover things later down the line about your character, you can add it to the sheet. Once you’ve finished your draft, you can use this sheet to make sure that the character’s actions are consistent.
- Use visual references for your characters
If you are a visual person like me, sometimes describing characters can be hard without visualizing them first. If you are someone who draws, try drawing your character using the descriptive words you already have. Adjust these descriptors as needed once you have your character drawn out. I sadly did not get the drawing gene, so I use a different approach. I call it the “movie book cast”. Think about people who you would cast in a movie version of your book. What about their appearance and body language is similar to one of your characters? Use their inspiration to help make your descriptors more concise.
- Take inspiration from your own favorite characters
There are many books that inspire us to write within a certain genre. Characters do that as well. This means it’s time for one of my favorite things, a list. First, write down what you already know about your character. What are their traits, their morals, etc? Then, make a list of characters who have inspired you. Write down their attributes, and pick out a few that you think would go well with your character. It is very important that you use this as inspiration, not as a copy and paste deal. If you love Elizabeth Bennett, don’t put a new name on her and put her into your story. Instead, think of why you love Elizabeth and use these traits as inspiration to create your own character.
- Don’t be afraid of flaws
When writing a story, a compelling tale is a must. How can you accomplish this with perfect characters? Newsflash, you can’t. Characters need to have flaws just like real life people. If you write a perfect protagonist going on a hero’s journey, there’s no point to the story. How will they grow if they’re perfect to begin with? This is when research and the good old character sheet come in handy. Use the information you gather from these to help determine these flaws. Are they a frustratingly perfect hero on a quest? Think about why they are going. Many times characters begin their journey for the wrong reasons, which is where the flaws begin to appear. Flaws are what make your characters relatable and interesting. It also makes your story interesting. No one cares about someone who can go through hardships without batting an eye. If you’re not sure where to begin, reference tip number four. What are the flaws of your favorite characters, and why were they present? Use them as a jumping off point to help you figure out how to humanize your own characters.
Creating a dynamic character in the world of your imagination is hard, but so worth it. Once you have them fleshed out, the story seems a little less intimidating. What is your process for creating characters? Have you ever tried these steps before, and did they help you? Let me know in the comments below! I hope that these tips can help you with character creation, especially during the upcoming NaNoWriMo. We have about a month, but it’s never too early to start planning. Thanks so much for reading, and happy writing!
Very useful advice! Creating a character sheet isn’t something I’ve really tried – at least outside of characters I didn’t already have a solid grasp of to begin with – so it’s something I might use that method for my next project. What are some character elements that you’ve found particularly useful for a character sheet?
One thing that I’ve started trying with writing characters is considering what role they play in the plot and setting, and giving them some sort of ‘twist’ that goes against initial preconceptions. For instance, one major character in a project I’m working on is the representative of an antagonistic regime, and I was originally going to have him act in a standoffish manner. But I instead decided to make him exceedingly polite and considerate, all while subscribing to the regime’s authoritarian ideology. It’s shaping him up to be a far more complex character, with good room for growth.