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Ah, characters…any writing book, class, writer, writing blog, writing teacher, writing website (you get the idea) will tell you about characters and characterization.

Why is that?

It’s because CHARACTERS are one of the pillars of fiction. Without characters what do you have? You have a setting. It might be a super exciting, apocalyptic setting, but it’s still, just a setting.

For a story, you must have some sort of character, be it an animal, magical creature, or the kid next door, and that character must be trying to achieve…something.

Today, we kick off a series in character basics. How do you create characters that your readers want to read about? For this series, we’re going to start from the outside of a character with physical appearance and details, move inward to motivations, and then work our way out again to look at how who they are and what they want influences how they act, or their behavior and actions.

Let’s get this character party started!

Sometimes characters come to us as full-blown people who have a story ready for us to tell. Other times, we come up with some great premise or story idea, and then we need to populate it with characters. In either case, you need to flesh out the basic details of your characters. This is the fun part of writing – the dreaming up and imagining all the characters that you get to spend time with because as you write about them, they sort of do become your friends, even when they’re being awful.

Character Basics

First, create a document or file for each character. You can do this in your writer’s notebook or on your computer.  Everything about this character will go in this file. Then, start figuring out the basics.

List your character’s: name, nickname, age, birthday, and place of birth.

Physical Details

Next, start filling in some of the physical descriptions and details of your character. Some areas you might address are:

  • nationality or ethnicity,
  • hair – color, texture, style, cleanliness;
  • eyes – color, glasses;
  • any distinguishing features such as birth marks, tattoos, piercings;
  • height;
  • weight;
  • mannerisms;
  • style of dress

You can also note how your character feels about their physical characteristics. Does she hate or love her curly red hair?

Remember your Characters

This is my favorite strategy for remembering the physical details of my characters. Get online and put “Portait” into Google’s search bar. If you are looking for picture of teenaged protagonists and antagonists, put “Senior Portrait” into the search bar.

Click on the “Images” tab. You will see portraits of all types of people. Searching for “Portrait” is much easier than searching for “teen boy” because those searches bring back famous people. You’ll get a whole page of Justin Beiber and that won’t help if your character doesn’t look like Justin. And, as writer Larry Brooks says in his masterpiece on writing Story Engineering, “No two characters should ever be alike.”

Once you’ve found your image, copy and save it on your character file or print it out and glue it into your Writer’s Notebook. If you are a visual person, this strategy is great for your remember details about your characters and keeping them straight, especially if you have quite a few that you’ve created.

Put it in Action

Let’s start fleshing this character out a bit.

1)Write a paragraph describing your character. You don’t need to go into likes, dislikes, motivations etc. Just describe what they look like and what you think they might be like based on their physical description.

2. Write another paragraph describing your character as seen by ANOTHER character in your story.

3. Repeat and write a third paragraph describing your character from ANOTHER character’s point of view.

How does this change or expand on the details you’ve already fleshed out?

If you opt-in to the email (see box below this post), I share eight strategies that will help you get to know your characters a little better.

In the comments below, share your favorite strategy for creating the physical elements of a character.