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