I'm in the character creation stage of a new story so as part of my series on new beginnings, I want to go over some great brainstorming tips I found. Today, I'm going to share something from one of my favorite books on writing, The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques, by Nancy Lamb, where the author reminds us that our challenge as writers is to "create a character that lives and breathes on the page, a character that laughs and cries and makes the reader feel those emotions." She tells us:

When you approach your characters, remember it is not only the hero that must stand out. All the characters in your story, major and minor characters, should occupy a unique place in your own imagination in order for them to occupy that same status in the reader's imagination.

A Matter of Authenticity

Before you become too involved in writing your story, take the time to do everything you can to establish the essence of your character in your own mind.

A strong character doesn't behave the way you want him to. A strong character behaves the way he should. Every time you write a new scene ask yourself if your hero's action is authentic. 

If you are writing about a woman who is excruciatingly shy, she can't walk into a party where she doesn't know anyone and introduce herself to the nearest stranger. Not going to happen.

Keep in mind that the actions of the character must be organic; they must grow naturally from the heart and mind of that character. Once you've established this foundation, you can move forward into your story with confidence. 

How To Create Unique Characters

There are endless ways to flesh out a character. One way to create multiple dimensions in the person who inhabits the pages of your book is to imagine different aspects of that character's inner and outer life. Here's a list of possible character traits for you to consider. This is a taking-off point. A framework to help you invent fully rounded and interesting characters. Add to it. Subtract from it. Embellish, embroider, and expand it. But most of all, use it.

Personality: Is your character aggressive or passive? Brave or fearful? Confident or shy? Creative? Eccentric? Introverted or extroverted? Logical? Optimistic or pessimistic? Paranoid? Risk-adverse or risk-taking?

Defining traits: Could your character be described as a bully or an underdog? A geek or a loner? A joiner or a leader? On the other hand, is he cold and warm? Confrontational and eager to please? Defiant and indifferent? Disliked? Feared? The life of the party or reclusive? 

Origin: DId your character grow up in an urban or rural area? In the big city or a small town? On which continent? In which country? With one parent or both? Was he an orphan? (How did these things affect his world view?) 

Home: Where does your character hang his hat? In a city or the suburbs? On the coast or in the plains? On an island? In the desert?

Shelter: What kind of building does your character live in? Apartment? Farm? House? What architecture style? Mansion? Public housing? Ranch? Shack? On the street?

Family Constellation: Does your character have children or grandchildren? Are her grandparents still living? Is she single, married, separated, or divorced? What's her relationship with her parent(s) or stepparent(s)? Where does she fall in the birth order? Does she have any pets?

Best Friends: Who are your character's best friends? What genders are they? How did they meet? What's the nature of the relationships? What interests do they share? How often do they communicate with one another? 

Interests: What is your character passionate about? Art, music, film, literature? Animals? The environment? Science and technology? Politics and religion? Culture, cuisine, and travel? Sports and games?

Dislikes: What repulses and irritates your character? Leafy green vegetables? Classical music? The opposite sex? Rude drivers? 

Favorites: What's your character's favorite...artist? Book or author? Clothing line? Color? Song? Flower? Food? Game? Sport? Movie or TV show?

Hobbies: When your character isn't at work, she's spending her time....antiquing? Camping? Coin or stamp collecting? Gaming? Gardening? Cooking? Painting, drawing, or sculpting? Parachute jumping or rock climbing? Shopping? Volunteering? 

Clothes: How does your character dress? Casual, trendy, sloppy, formal? Does he take pride in his appearance? Does he spend money on clothes?

Names: Does your character have a nickname? If so, what does that name reflect? Her appearance, circumstance, personality? Does she like or hate her nickname? If she's married, did she take her spouses name?

Body language: How does your character carry himself? Does he stand straight? Make eye-contact? Have a limp handshake? Walk as if defeated, with slumped shoulders? Glide gracefully down hallways? Trip and fall often? 

As you apply these particulars, preferences, and circumstances to your character, as yourself the following questions:

  • Is my character too bland? Too homogeneous?
  • How do the traits reflect the heart and spirit of my character?
  • How do they demonstrate who he is and what he stands for?
  • How do these traits indicate emotional conflict?
  • What do they say about his inner life?
  • What do they say about his outer life?
  • How do the traits indicate the complexity of the character?
  • What other traits, circumstances, or preferences can add depth and texture and conflicts to the character?

That's it for today! I hope this was as helpful to you as it was for me. If you have any questions or comments, let me know.

Until next week!