How to Build a Character

We still have the whole not-sleeping-well thing going on here. My husband started a new job, which is great. The only downfall is that he’s working a LOT of hours. I think my son is going through some sort of separation anxiety thing and is desperately afraid that I, too, will disappear, hence the waking up all night long. So, due to lack of sleep, here is an oldie of mine from way back! Enjoy!

I was told by Johanna Raisanen, an associate editor at Harlequin, that I have very strong characters, so I thought I would write a how-to article on how to build a character.

No matter what I’m writing, whether it’s young adult, contemporary or historical romance, or fantasy, I always start with the characters first. Sometimes, my “character profiles” are each five pages long. It’s really important to know the characters as well as you know yourself. You might never tell the reader all the facts that you’ve discovered about your hero/heroine, but it’s important for you to know all this information so that your characters have the proper motivation. If you’ve ever read a story and scoffed at a character’s actions as unbelievable, then the author of that story didn’t provide the proper motivation for that character.

To help you build the best possible characters I’ve included the list of questions I go through for each main character before I start writing.

 

1. Basics- age, location, gender, job, education, name

2. Looks- and how they have affected the character’s life

3. Personality- optimist or pessimist, sarcastic, kind, quiet, outgoing, etc. Try to make this as detailed as possible and include information on how it has affected their life.

4. The story of their life up until that moment- Here I make sure I know all the important events that shaped her/him. Examples: what their relationship with their parents was like, romantic history, any tragic or joyful events, etc.

5. What does the character want most at the start of the story (and answer this again at the end as it will have probably changed).

 

Then, if the story is a romance, or has a romantic subplot, I go on to answer these questions:

1. Why are the hero and heroine perfect for each other?

2. Why are they the worst possible match for each other?

3. What will be the conflict between them? This doesn’t mean he’s sarcastic and she’s irritated by it. This is the big conflict, the thing that is going to make a happy ending for them seem impossible.

4. How will they resolve the conflict?

 

Once you have answered these questions you’re ready to start writing! Good luck, and have fun!

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5 thoughts on “How to Build a Character

  1. Thank you so much, I write short stories and basically no character set-up at all (there usually isn’t time) but I’m not progressing any. This will help me work my way out of that slump and maybe learn something in the process. Thanks!

  2. Hey – have you heard of this? Thought you might like it: http://www.nanowrimo.org/ I’m doing some blog cross-pollinating and am going to share your comments here with another friend of mine who’s thinking of doing NANOWRIMO – thanks for the insite!

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