Creating Characters

Characters are hard to get right. Creating them is a complicated process if you want them to be more than a shallow, one-dimensional sort. In order to achieve a believable, 3-dimensional character (whether this is for a novel, a screenplay or whatever fictional pursuit you’re endeavoring in), one needs to have some idea as to psychology and culture. For example, if your character comes from another country, the author would need enough forethought to consider every aspect of that character’s life and how being from a different country might affect their motivations, their dreams or their fears. This will definitely include research in some form: reading about it, looking at pictures, talking to people who have been there or live there, visiting there yourself. All of these ways of learning will give the author more insight into what is going on in the character’s head.

The way I begin to form a character is to pull out the most defining characteristic (physical, emotional, mental) and their motivations. This way I know if the character falls into the protagonist or the antagonist framework and how the character fits into the world that I’m building. Around that I form the rest of the character—their physical appearance, how they grew up, whether they’re an introvert or an extrovert. I take the Myer-Briggs test, answering as if I were the character. By the end of this I know how the character would react to most situations, therefore I can write them into any sort of situation.

As part of my character development I also look at birth date, and therefore the astrological implications—the Chinese Zodiac, the normal Zodiac, and Celtic Tree Zodiac. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything they have to say will lend to the character, just as they don’t strictly adhere to your everyday life. With these in place I then move on to examine name possibilities.

For the first and middle names I look through baby name books and websites, first paring the choice down by origin and gender, and then by meaning. This doesn’t always have to suit the character perfectly, just like they don’t fit real people sometimes. It could be a family name, or a name of a famous person they were named for or just something their parents liked. For surnames I start with much the same, but I tag on looking up the history of the name as well. This gives me a cultural perspective of what others would think when hearing the character’s name as well as what their family history could include.

Once you have a working character profile, feel free to draw them, sculpt them, write character sketches, talk about them, change them and remake them as you see fit. This is not the only way to build a character—this is just the most complete and effective way I have found to create one.

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