7 ingredients for creating the perfect character

One of the most awesome things about being a writer is creating characters. Taking a blank page and fashioning people with personalities, motivations, hopes, fears, and dreams. So how do you create the perfect well-rounded character?

Here are seven ingredients to start you on your way.

Give your characters an appearance. This is perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of writing a novel. We, the writers, get to decide what our characters look like – are they tall, short, slim, large-boned, petite, chubby, or muscular? Is their hair black, brown, blonde, red, or a labyrinth of purple and green highlights? Do they wear it in a bob, an afro, long and wavy, stick straight, or in a buzz cut?

If you’re a visual person, you’ll be able to locate your “characters” in a variety of places. Walmart or your local grocery store is a hub for ideas. People watching should include the clerks, the workers, and especially the customers.

Another great idea factory for appearance ideas? The gym, church (the kind, sweet old lady or the mom with a half dozen kids hanging off her as she rushes to make it on time), and your neighborhood (yes, potential characters live there too).

Online ideas include wanted posters for bad guy characters. I’ve recently launched into romantic suspense and can’t wait to see where God leads me with that genre. As such, I found a perfect baddie by culminating facial and body characteristics from several different wanted posters.

Pinterest boards can keep your character ideas all in one place. I created a board titled, “vintage photos that provide character inspiration“. This board has numerous historical photos of people – perfect for historical romance novels or time-slips. I’ve recently been working on a board for my contemporary characters. Stay tuned!

Magazines provide inspiration as well. I recently found my female main character on the pages of a women’s magazine. Perhaps a bit archaic in our digital world, but as we writers are fond of saying, when we find the perfect character, we just know it.

Give your characters a name. We writers know that our characters must have just the right name that fits their personality. There are a zillion names, from old-fashioned ones to contemporary ones. If you ever wondered where to find some name ideas, check out this Pinterest board by fellow writer (and my daughter!), Madisyn Zeller, titled “names for characters”. Madisyn’s board contains names for characters in just about every genre, from Scottish to whimsical to vintage.

Some other ideas for names can be found on my post 10 awesome websites for writers.

Give your characters a voice. Are you an audio person? Listen for sounds of how your character might speak – accents, word usage, tone, shrill/booming/deep/annoying/monotone and apply those to your characters. Also, consider what your character’s voice does when they’re excited, irritated, or upset. What about their laugh? Does word pronunciation change with their emotions? Think also about inflections.

Give your characters a personality. Talk with a variety of people and take notice of their personalities. Contradictory? Gentle? Loud? Obnoxious? The website 16personalities has all of the Myers Briggs personalities listed in detail. It’s how I discovered my main male character was an ESTJ. The Emotion Thesaurus is an invaluable guide “to character expression”. 

I recently started a Pinterest board titled “character personalities”. I even added some information about body language to assist in my characters’ actions. All super helpful in developing versatile and realistic characters!

Give your characters a vehicle. Sit at a stop light or in a parking lot and notice what people drive. This can provide excellent inspiration for the vehicles your characters use for transportation. Do they drive a pickup truck? Minivan? Motorcyle, bus, or covered wagon? Is it a dilapidated car that barely runs or a fancy and expensive SUV?

Give your characters a house. Drive to a variety of neighborhoods – golf course community/trailer park/ low-income housing/suburbs/middle class/older homes/condos and try to imagine your character in one of these abodes.

If you’re on the hunt for historical homes, check out my Pinterest board, “where my characters live” for everything from Victorian homes to farmhouses, and cabins to shacks.

Madisyn has a helpful Pinterest board titled “interior design ideas” that gives great visuals for the interior of your characters’ homes.

Creating Pinterest boards can be extremely helpful when it comes time to create characters. Another route is to keep a Word file with information. Some of my best and favorite ideas for personalities and appearances have come from research I’ve gathered over the years from a variety of sources.

When we writers mesh the appearance, personality, voice, home, and vehicle, along with motivations, goals, hopes, and fears, we create unforgettable characters for our readers.

Other posts on this blog that may interest you:

5 ways to jumpstart your writing project

when your characters become real

10 awesome websites for writers

10 awesome websites for writers

websites for writers

Writers spend a large amount of time creating characters, scenes, and researching historical events, contemporary happenings, and developing realistic settings. And after the work is done, there is the search for an agent, and after publication, the marketing of the book.

Below is a go-to list of some websites I have personally found to be invaluable in my writing journey.

1-2. Ever wondered what to name your characters? So much goes into the names – they have to “fit” the character in the author’s mind, have to be realistic and easy to pronounce. (Have you ever read a novel where you can’t pronounce the name?!) A couple of my favorite go-to sites for names are Baby Names (Social Security Administration), which includes rankings of popularity since 1880 (perfect for those of us who love to write historical and contemporary fiction) and Nameberry, which includes a handy-dandy search tool by beginning letter or by origin.

3. One of the hardest things to do in fiction writing is to give your characters effective and realistic flaws – ones that they can overcome. 123 Ideas for Character Flaws has a hodgepodge of flaws that you can give to your main and secondary characters.

Victor Hugo

4-5. Each week, helpful blog posts about the craft of writing can be found at The Steve Laube Agency. Rotating agents, including my awesome agent, Tamela Hancock Murray, deliver timely and informational insights into the writing world. Some recent posts include Book Proposal Basics – All About You and Using Someone Else’s Words (What is Fair Use?).

Another agent blog site is Books and Such Literary Management. Marketers and Publicists: What is the Difference and So Many Ideas, So Little Time are two recent posts.

6. K.M. Weiland hosts an amazing amount of information on her website, Helping Writers Become Authors. Be prepared to spend serious time on this site because it offers advice on everything from How to Write Character Arcs to How to Structure Scenes; from Most Common Writing Mistakes to How to Outline your Novel.

7. An interesting site I came across recently is Grammar Girl. There is a host of fascinating posts, not only about grammar and its correct usage, but also Fascinating Words for Colors (and the Battle of Magenta) and a short post on the difference between sneaked and snuck.

Stephen King

8. Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference is so much more than just information about preparing for a writer’s conference. Guest posts from a variety of authors, including one of my favorite suspense authors, DiAnn Mills, offer an array of constructive advice. Some recent posts sure to help the budding, as well as seasoned writer include How to Ask Your Characters the Hard Questions and Homonyms for Writers: Did you Sea/See There/Their Mistake? The latter even includes a chart of homonyms and a link for more extensive review.

9. A surefire way to become engrossed in the days of yesteryear is to take a visit to the Library of Congress Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers. Your research will take you to fascinating articles about all sorts of topics from newspapers dating back to 1789.

10. Maybe you need something to help get those creative juices flowing. Writing Prompts offers a diverse selection of story-starters to get you on your path to completing that word count goal.

Now it’s time to put the pen to the paper, or in our case of modern times, put the fingers to the keyboard and type the story your readers can’t wait to read!

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5 ways to jumpstart your writing project

5 ways to jumpstartIt can be challenging to return to your writing project after an interruption. Our family recently battled the flu and bronchitis. Then my husband had shoulder surgery. Life got busy and hectic as I sought to make up for lost time.

Soon, my latest novel and my life as an author took a backseat to “playing catch up”. I knew I needed to get back on track.

Have you ever been sidelined from your writing? Below are five ways to jumpstart your writing project.

1. Begin! This is perhaps the most difficult part, especially after a hiatus. The habit of simply writing can be a challenge. I love this quote by Louis L’Amour: “Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Louis L' Amour

2. Enlist the help of your family and friends. My oldest daughter, who is also a writer, holds me accountable like no one else. She is the first to ask, “Mom, are you going to get some writing in today?” I do the same for her, and we marvel with each click of the keyboard as we get closer to The End. Seek out family, friends, and fellow writers who will help you keep your mind focused on your writing.

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3. Set aside time to write each day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be your future novel. It can also be your blog or an article. Feel free to set the timer. 🙂

4. Record your word count each day. When my web designer placed a “Novel in Progress” counter on my website, I was super encouraged to watch the percentage of completion rise each time I penned more words. I decided to do a similar counter here on this blog for a couple of different novels. This has definitely held me accountable.

Recording your word count doesn’t have to include an app or something fancy. It can be as simple as writing on your calendar (or putting into your phone) how many words you’ve written each day. Be sure to give yourself permission to take a day off here and there to avoid burnout.

5. Take your writing seriously. I had someone ask me what line of work I was in when I first began writing for magazines. “I’m a writer,” I told her.

“A rider? As in you ride horses?”

Um, no.

Those who know me know that riding horses is not something I am adept at or even care to do (Someday I’ll share my adventures in horseback riding). Running, power walking, or driving the motorized variety of vehicles is more to my liking.

“No,” I answered. “A writer.”

“Ah, a writer. So you write?”

If you don’t write the story or the blog post floating around in your head, who will? And there will never be a better time than the present to begin or to pick up where you left off!

when your characters become real

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I recently started a new novel and have been developing my main characters. What do they look like? Where are they at in their faith walk? What do each of them do in the face of adversity? What scares them? Invigorates them? Upsets them? What are their hobbies? What was their upbringing like?

Characters are the funnest thing to create as a writer. We spend a lot of time thinking about our characters and putting them in seemingly impossible situations. I love writing character-driven books, and as a very visual person, it helps tremendously for me to have pictures of the characters on hand. Although, the first time I had a picture of a guy taped to my computer monitor, my husband Lon asked, “Who is that guy?”

“Oh, that’s just Zach.”

“Zach? Do we know him?”

“Well, you may not, but I do. You see, he’s the main character in McKenzie, the first book in my Montana Skies Historical Romance Series. A figment of my imagination.”

Several years ago, Hailee, the third book in that series was published.

I remember when I first began creating the characters that made the series come to life. Particularly, busybody Lucille Granger, who makes her cameo appearance in all three books.

I sat perched on the staircase in our house, watching in anticipation for my husband Lon to come home from work. He was scarcely through the front door when I began tugging on his arm, “Lon!” I exclaimed.

“Is everything ok, Pen?” After all these years of marriage, he knows about my exuberant and creative personality.

“Yes, yes, it’s fine. I can’t wait for you to meet Lucille Granger!”

“What? Lucille Granger? Do we have company?”

I shook my head and laughed while leading Lon up the stairs and into the office. When he saw me pointing for him to sit in the blue “guest” chair in the office, he nodded his head knowingly. He’d been in the blue “guest” chair many times before. Yep, it was making sense to him now – Lucille Granger wasn’t someone visiting for dinner. She was one of the secondary characters I’d developed for my Montana Skies Series.

I read with excitement the chapter where I had created Lucille’s personality. She was nosy, presumptuous, and demanding, yet she had a good heart. I had waited all day to share my newest creation with the person I love most in this world, and now that time had come. Wasting no time, I flipped through the three pages of typewritten text, complete with voice changes to further bring to life Lucille’s character.

Being the sweetheart that he is and on a quest to earn “husband points”, Lon listened as I read.

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Ahhhh…the life of a writer. There’s nothing quite like creating new characters and watching the words flow on the page. There’s nothing quite like pressing the word count button and seeing the words increase at a nice rate. When you write, you come to know your characters as if they are family members, friends, or neighbors. I thank the Lord daily that He has given me the ability to do this job. I owe every word, every paragraph, every page, and every character to Him.

Portions of this post first appeared on Author Linda Yezak’s blog at https://lindayezak.com/2011/11/30/when-your-characters-become-real/