How to Create Characters: Ten Ways to Create Deeper and Unforgettable Characters by Margaret Aslanis-Nystrom
For many fiction writers, figuring out how to create characters that seem real to readers is difficult. How can you make your characters breathe? As Stephen King says, “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
Using some or all of my ten different techniques can help you create deeper and unforgettable characters:
1. Psychological Depth:
What makes your characters tick? Humans are not one-sided. We are multi-dimensional. What are your characters thinking and why? What was their past? How we encounter the world and translate the world around us, this is what makes us— human. No matter who or what your character is— animals, aliens, or other living beings, it is how they experience their world that makes them alive! So get in their head!
Character Question: How, what, and why your character thinks and reacts to their world?
2. Behavioral Depth:
We have good and bad behavioral traits as well as in-between. A villain can be psychotic and cold-hearted, except with one person, because they remind them of a past love. No one is 100 per cent bad. Or, good. Even Hitler had a mother. The same with real sociopaths or the Mother Teresa’s in human history.
A hero can be seriously flawed and be heroic, because readers relate to that character’s weaknesses. We are all flawed in some way. Watch human behavior. Study people when out in public and notice what is unusual, quirky, or endearing about them. Read interviews, psychological profiles, biographies, and autobiographies that closely match your characters.
Character Question: How and why does your character behave the way they do?
3. Emotional Depth:
Feelings are never wrong. It is our behavior or actions that should be judged. Behavior is usually driven by our thoughts and feelings. Your character has feelings. They change all the time with each situation… just like yours.
Character Question: How and why does a character feel the way they do?
4. Sensory Depth:
Use the five senses. We are not talking about just what the character looks like. Be aware how and what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches. Do they have unusual tastes? Do they hear or see things others don’t or in a different way?
Character Question: How does a character use or experience their senses?
Good dialogue is important, but it is not the only way we communicate. We use body language, posture, tone, eye contact, etc. Also, we use social media, writing, phones, etc., to communicate.
Character Question: How does your character communicate with others?
6. Social Depth:
We do not relate just to family and friends. We have neighbors, bosses, clergy, service workers, teachers, politicians, police, doctors, nurses, team members, etc. How do women relate differently than men? What is your character’s place or role in society? What do they care about or value? What is their passion? How do they dress? What restaurant do they eat at?
Character Question: What are the social roles such as gender and sexual orientation, political/social mores, and values of this character and in relation to others in their society?
7. Relational Depth:
What are the intimate personal relationships your character has with family and friends? Do they even have family or friends? Pets?
Character Question: Who are the people in your character’s life and how do they relate and why?
8. Cultural Depth:
Learn about different religions, cultures, countries, and ethnic groups. Make your own country with a combination of characteristics of other countries or create a new one.
Character Question: How and why a person behaves and thinks the way they do in their own culture, religion, ethnicity, etc.?
9. Geography/Biology Depth:
Weather, biology, and geography affects us. Learn about life forms/systems on and outside earth. Talk to a scientist. Read!
Character Question: Where and how a person lives in relation to the physical world around them?
Add some light moments or humor. Even in dark stories, humor can be used to make characters more human and give the reader a little break from intense action or drama. Be careful how you use it. You want your story to be believable, not a comic book version.
Character Question: How does this character relate to the difficulties in their life?
Have fun with creating your characters. Remember, sometimes, less is more. Create your own reality, but allow the reader to imagine some things too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ms. Nystrom is an educator, writer, and artist. She knows a lot about characters, because she has taught both children and adults for over 38 years! She has created over 25 blogs and won 4 NaNoWriMo challenges. A character herself, she enjoys motivating writers on her current blog, http://afterwriterdreams.com/.