Monday, February 28, 2011

Character Creation--Putting it all together

Even with a framework for character creation in fiction it isn't easy to build compelling fictional characters. Having a guide definitely makes the job less challenging, though.

Summarizing the character creation posts of the last few weeks:

1. To nudge inspiration, begin your character creation exercises by writing a description of a real or fictional person and embellish where necessary. (See post on 1/17/11 at

2. Show rather than tell facts about a person. "George was stupid." vs "The teacher explained four times the process of opening a jar of peanut butter, but George still did not understand the procedure." (See post on 1/24/11 at cavewriter.)

3. Compare and contrast to fully illustrate a character fact. "He moved as fluidly as Michael Jordon executing a perfect layup." instead of "He was graceful." (See post on 1/31/11 at cavewriter.)

4. Choices characters make give readers insight into their hearts. Read the post on 2/7/11 at to see how three different people react to a bus accident.

5. Whether or not a character lives up to his belief system can tell readers volumes about who he is. The preacher and the pregnancy illustration of this in the Cavewriter post on 2/14/11 shows exactly what I mean.

6. The hearts of characters are clearly illustrated by the way they treat others. Remember the example shown in last week's post at Cavewriter regarding Melanie and Belle from "Gone with the Wind?"

These six helpful ideas in character creation should go a long way in aiding writers struggling with characters as they hammer out their stories.

These points may also inspire fresh questions in the minds of writers such as "Do I use all of these ways of building characters in all of my works of fiction?" "When do I use them?" "Do I use them on all of my characters?"

Naturally, the writer is the creator when it comes to his or her stories. When, how or if writers use these techniques is totally up to them. I would suggest, however, that it might be most effective to use the type of character illustration which best suits the scene being written.

I'd also suggest interspersing these techniques throughout the story, using the most appropriate technique for each part of the story.

One more suggestion--as writers flesh out their characters before they write a word of their stories, it might be a good idea to consider answering questions about each of the character's belief systems, life choices they've made prior to the beginning of the story, how they'd treat another person given a certain situation, and things of this nature. It's very helpful to know the characters' hearts as well as their overall personalities, their connections to other people and the way they look.

Remember, the better a writer knows her characters, the more believable they become to readers when they react in ways true to who they are as they face the challenges presented to them in the plot of the story.

Still sound complicated? As I said, character creation isn't easy, but all the work necessary in building believable characters is worth the effort. It truly is.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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