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Monday Musings - Let's create our characters

I have decided to spend the next few weeks sharing my thoughts on character creation. Writers tend to concentrate on plot, language, and style. All of these are important, but without interesting, distinctive, and sympathetic characters you will lose your readers. After all, the story you are telling is about people, people who are as unique as those in your life. Do not shortchange your readers. I may forget part of a plot, or an interesting quote, but I never forget a character that I have learned to love or hate.

Character Creation– There are two main methods that novelists use:

1) Some create a story, a plot. Once they have an outline or plan for the story they want to tell, the writer thinks about the characters and the best kind of characters needed to fit the plot and push the story forward. The characters are secondary to the story. They need to fit into the tale and adjust accordingly. There is a danger in this method, although it is probably the most common method that novelists use. The danger is a flat one-dimensional character. For example, if the story calls for a weight-lifter, a muscle-bound narcissist is described. He may or may not be unique. He may just be your stereo type of a gym addict. He will not be memorable. He was created merely to fit the plot.

2) Unsure of the plot, this novelist creates the characters first. He creates unique characters with quirky habits and histories. He gives them comprehensive background stories and deep psychological traits that stem from childhood traumas. The physical appearance is described down to the very smallest mole. His hobbies, fears, and personal oddities are told to the reader in such minute detail that little is left to the imagination. Even the minor characters have complete histories, physical descriptions, and personalities. The danger with this method is that the story or plot is lost to the fascination that the author has with his creation. The reader is not left with anything to imagine or compare to his own life view.

I tend to lean to the second method, but always start with a basic idea of plot and where I want the story to go. I usually don’t have a lot of detail – just a beginning, a setting, and an ending. But for this course on character creation I want you to think of the next project you have rolling around in the back of your mind. In the next few weeks we are going to create a character – hopefully one that will fit the next short story or novel your imagination is cooking. In the end, it will be up to you if this is the protagonist or the nemesis. Again it will be up to you if this creation is a major or minor character. This may not even be a character that you ever want to use. But I want you to fashion an uncommon character, no stereotypical or boring character. Pick a female who lifts weights, or a mouse-like man who has uncommon strength. Create a tea drinking detective or a stuttering motivational speaker. Have fun! You may just come up with your next novel.

Let’s create his or her physical appearance

1) Is your character male or female? Is your character an adult or a child? What race are they? What nationality or origin? Are they from this planet? Are they human? Are they tall or short? Are they skinny or fat? Are they good-looking or downright ugly? Are they scarred in some way with a birthmark or burns? How do they walk? Does she make long strides like a man? Does he sashay like a woman? Are they bald? Do they wear a ponytail or dye their hair? If so, what color? Do they wear wigs or a toupee? Does he have a beard? Does she have a mustache? Is her hair thinning? If you had to describe your character’s face to a police artist how would you describe his face? (Let’s use some of those metaphors or similes you’ve been working on!) Is it long or round? Does he have close-set eyes or a glass eye? Is his nose overly large or just a smudge on his face? How about the chin – is it as strong as Jay Leno’s or weak and hard to find? How about the lips- are they thin or thick? How old is your character? Does she look her age? Is she underdeveloped or wrinkled prematurely? How do they dress? Are they fashionable or are they still wearing those bell bottom jeans they got in the sixties? Are they ironed or crumpled? Do they wear suits or sneakers? What makes them stand out from the crowd? Do they wear cowboy hats and only dress in black? Or do they like neon colors? Do they bathe regularly, or smell slightly? Is she wearing too much make-up, or is he? You’ve got the idea. Now create the physical appearance of your character and write it down. Next Monday we will create your character’s personality!

This blog was first posted on the Catholic Writer's Guild blog. To find the guild, go to To find my books go to or

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