Crafting Characters: Tips for Creating People

No, I don’t mean procreation when I say “creating” people—that’s a whole separate topic we’re not going to get into. Here, we’re talking about making up characters for fictional stories. What’s great about creating characters for a story is that humans are so diverse. We, as people, are so utterly interesting as a species. From our personalities to our tastes and interests, we vary so much as people. My husband and I are total opposites. He loves sports. I hate sports, mostly because I can’t understand all the rules, for the most part. (Except for swimming—I was a competitive swimmer back in my younger days. Woo, breaststroke!) I’m a violinist and a music geek; he doesn’t understand my obsession with “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns or with Yo-Yo Ma. (Actually, the reason why I’m such a big fan of the cellist and of violinist Joshua Bell is that my dad used to take me to see them perform with the Philadelphia orchestra.) You get my point. People vary greatly.

What does that mean for your storytelling? Your characters should be just as diverse, especially if you’re writing human characters. I’m not a Sci-Fi or Fantasy writer, so I can’t speak on creating characters in those genres (characters such as aliens, elves, hobbits, et cetera). However, I do write women’s fiction, romance (kind of a blend), and am currently working on a mystery novel. I love to read mysteries and suspense, so it was only natural to move my writing into that genre. Writing romance/women’s fiction, however, did help me study how people interact with each other.

Anyway, back to creating characters. Here are some tips for crafting your characters.

  1. Characters should have flaws.
    Humans aren’t perfect, which means your characters shouldn’t be perfect, either. Your main character’s flaws should help fuel the conflict. Examples of flaws could include greed, jealousy, prejudice, dishonesty, or arrogance.
  2. Characters should have strong motivations.
    There should be a reason why your characters act the way they do, whether it’s your antagonist looking to conquer the world because his life is being threatened or a protagonist simply seeking companionship. For a fantastic example of strong character motivation, check out one of my recent posts, A Case Study in Character Motivation: Legally Blonde. A great source for motivation ideas is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  3. Make your characters memorable.
    Don’t just write mundane descriptions such as hair color and eye color. Do they have vivid scars? A certain gait? (Think Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in the show Gotham, based on the Batman series.) Funny preoccupation? (Like Ed Nygma and his fascination with riddles, as he ends up becoming The Riddler. I’m on a Gotham kick, if you can’t tell.) Ask yourself, “What makes my character stand out?”
  4. Each character should be well-developed.
    Every human has their own unique background. In my debut novel, The Days Without You, Kylie is losing her mother to cancer and already has a history of tragic loss. She has her own interests and aspirations (such as a surfing and her desire to be a crime journalist), as well as a reluctance toward her budding relationship with Adam due to her history with past relationships. What type of childhood did your characters have? Was it happy or sad? What are their personal goals? Their likes or dislikes? Make your characters as uniquely human as real people are.
  5. Characters should be diverse.
    This, of course, will depend somewhat on your setting (such as a monastery or a convent, for example, in which case your characters would all be monks or nuns, although there still would be some diversity amongst them). What I’m trying to say is that the world isn’t made up of all straight, white, neurotypical men. People have disabilities, illnesses (mental and physical), ailments, different sexual preferences, different physical appearances. Don’t make all your characters the same, and don’t only go into detail on the characters who aren’t straight, white dudes.

I suppose the ultimate idea I’m trying to convey here is that you should make your characters as real as possible. Stop and think about what it’s like to be human. Humans vary. We are diversely different as a species, and there’s no right or wrong way to be human. (And, if you’ve never listened to Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns, I highly recommend it, especially the movements titled “The Elephant” and “The Swan”. Seriously, double bass never gets any love.) Happy writing!

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