How to Create Real Characters

There are many ways that characters come to you. Sometimes the character’s voice might show up in your head. The character might come after your setting. Other times, they might show up as you are writing. There’s no wrong way to do it, but how do you create characters that seem real?

There are many writing books out there but my favorite section on character is in the book called The Magic Words by Cheryl B, Klein. In chapter 7, she breaks down what you should have on each character to help flesh them out. Writing characters are a challenge because “It requires you to make these characters real enough that they seem to make decisions independently of you, their creator, yet using their personalities and actions in service of a plot line you determine.”

The chapter goes through seven things that will help you create a complex character.

  1. Groundwork: Think of it like things you fill out on a job application or medical information.
  2. Identity: Who are they? Example, my character Sky is a daughter, niece, student, prodigy, pilot, weather nerd.
  3. Internal qualities: The character’s core beliefs.
  4. External qualities: What does this character look like? How do they speak and act?
  5. Backstory: Success, failure, betrayal, loss, birthday, family dynamics, etc.
  6. Action: What the character does. What do they want? What are they willing to do to get it?
  7. Reader Connection: How much will you see this character? How does the main character feel about this character? How do you want the reader to feel about the character?

Now let’s do a mini character sheet. I’ll make up a character and then leave a blank one for you to do at the end.

Groundwork:

Name: Holly Pine

Age: 16

Race: Native American and Dutch

Identity:

Friend, daughter, waitress, student, girlfriend, nature enthusiast

Internal Qualities:

1. Preserve nature for the next generation. 2. Work hard and good things will come to you.

External qualities:

Long dark hair, tan skin, blue eyes, Southern accent

Backstory:

Holly has grown up in Whispering Pines her whole life. She lives with her mother and grandmother. Everything in her life has gone smoothly until a new family comes to town. Their son, Ryan starts acting like he’s known Holly her whole life. Holly knows this can’t be true, however, when he shares the details of the night her father went missing that she didn’t know she starts questioning everything. This perfect small-town teen maybe willing to leave everything to uncover the truth.  

Action:

Holly always wanted to find out what happened to her father. Holly just might wreck her perfect small-town life try to find the answers she’s always wanted.

Reader Connection:

This is the main character. We want the reader to root for her.

Blank Mini Character Sheet Exercise:

Groundwork:

Name:

Age:

Race:

Identity:

Internal Qualities:

External qualities:

Backstory:

Action:

Reader Connection:

For a more detailed list and explanation of developing characters go read chapter 7 in The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Cline, you can buy the book or go borrow a copy from the library. These ideas are a summary taken from her book. I highly recommend reading it for anyone who wants a great how-to book on writing. 

Megan is a writer of a variety of genres, but her favorite genre is sci-fi. She loves YA and sci-fi books and a variety of shows. Her top book recommendations are Calculated and Simulated by Nova McBee, The Droseran Saga by Ronie Kendig, Winter, White and Wicked by Shannon Dittmore and The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson. Her current favorite shows WandaVision, Merlin, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Megan has a background in education. Her day job is a stay-at-home parent/teaching her kids in a hybrid homeschool. Her favorite hobbies are playing with her kids, reading, writing, talking to friends online or in person and looking up cool weather facts.

Ways to get to know me:

Instagram: https://instagram.com/meganjwalvoord

Email: mjwalvoord@gmail.com

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