How Do I Create My Characters?

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov


When I write my stories everything I do revolves around my main cast of characters. Every plot choice, every setting, conflict are all ultimately decided based on what the characters would do, say, need or what will challenge them most. I will change entire story arcs to make it work based on the characters. Strong characters are what tend to keep me glued to a page when I’m reading, and so that’s what I focus on when I’m writing.

So, when I’m developing my characters I make ANOTHER outline. I break it up into three questions; What do they look like? Where do they come from? Who are they?. If I consider the character someone who is core to the story then I make a character outline for them. For most stories this involves 1-3 characters for short stories and 3-5 for novel length projects. These are characters you couldn’t tell the story without, which helps me reduce character bloat as well.

What do they look like?

First I start with what I envision the character looking like, going far beyond just hair color and height. I dig into what type of clothes do they wear/like, do they have any distinguishing features or marks, and what kind of body posture do they carry? This can tell you so much about their personality when writing and help make them feel real to a reader in my opinion.

Where did they come from?

Next I’ll rough out the personality type I’m looking for, but I don’t get detailed yet. I will jump over to writing about the characters’ pasts. What in their life will make them the way they are? Your past is a roadmap to who you are, and this should be the same for characters, again your want your characters to be believable because if they aren’t your readers can’t identify with them. What motivates us and what choices we make are often influenced by what we’ve experienced in the past and so when my characters are presented with tough choices I can get into their head and figure out what choice they would make and why. The why is the most important part to me because if I don’t know why the character would do something then I don’t really know my characters and neither will the reader.

Who are they?

So now I can expand on their personality in more detail if I need to because I know where they came from. From their past who is this person at the start of the story? What do they fear the most? What are their dreams/goals? What motivates them? This will dictate what kind of conflicts I put in front of my characters, and how they grow within a story. I don’t always know how the events of my story will affect my characters when I start a story.

Knowing my characters inside and out has lead me to changing entire story arcs as I write a piece and that’s because it’s the character choices that really drive my stories. I have to do what makes sense for them rather than what makes sense for the plot. In my next post I’ll talk about the effects this can have on your writing.

Happy Writing!