Thursday, March 1, 2012

This-n-That Thursday: Ways to Create Unique Characters

How do you create interesting and unique characters who also feel “real” to your readers?  

There are a variety of helpful tools to help us conceive our characters’ personalities and backgrounds. Some writers have designed their own charts and “interview” questions. A favorite of mine is the in-depth character chart generated by Jeff Gerke, which utilizes information from Myer’s Briggs and the book Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey on temperament, character, and intelligence.

It’s important to study our craft. It’s also easy for many writers—at least those of us who are introverts—to hibernate with our resource and “how-to” books. 

But …

Just like artists who understand color and shapes, photographers who have an eye for lighting and unusual /interesting shots, and CSI who detect things at a crime scene that passersby wouldn’t notice—writers must take in all that is around us.

Observe people around you …

Do your friends or relatives have interesting quirks or mannerisms that fit your character? By watching people in malls, restaurants, or grocery stores, you can discover ways that people move, react, and relate to those around them.  

Interesting people I recently encountered:

  • A, petite, sophisticated lady in a full-length fur coat who appeared bored.
  • A young man dressed in tight, black jean, a black pea coat, styled hair, and a black leather bag slung over his shoulder who looked like a professional in the arts on the move.
  • A Caucasian mother remained very calm despite her hyper-active son, who was about eight with shaggy hair. Her Polynesian-looking daughter, about sixteen, was beautiful, well dressed, and oblivious to her brother’s antics.
  • An owner of a hole-in-the wall café who was extremely rude to everyone/anyone who wanted to order lunch. He was Chinese. When someone asked for a glass of ice water, he said, “Ice! We got no ice! You only get cold water.”

Utilize photos …

I’m currently writing a historical romance and have been collecting photos to help me recreate that time period. I’ve also chosen three actors who fit my mental images of the heroine, hero, and the “other guy.” The opportunity to see these three individuals in movies or TV shows helps me visualize how they might act, react, or sound in a variety of situations. 


Mix and match …

In a contemporary romance that I wrote (not published), I created a secondary character who my critique partners (Annette and Ocieanna) loved. They warned me that I needed to be careful that Dalisay, (the heroine’s best friend) didn’t become so strong that she felt even more likeable than the heroine.  

This is how I created parts of Dalisay:

1)    I started with a character (crafted by a Chinese actress) who was loyal, witty, and a bit sarcastic to help give me a basic feel for how she’d act/react in situations and banter with the heroine.

2)    The story is set in Seattle, and we have a rather large Filipino population here. Although a modern woman, I had Dalisay come from a traditional Filipino family. What I didn’t know from personal experience, I researched. Her family is included in several fun chapters/scenes. Including another culture added dimension to the character.

3)    My oldest daughter is in theater, so I’m familiar with that community. I made Dalisay a set designer—and that role became important to the story.

4)    A close friend has a way of raising one eyebrow when she questions or disapproves something that’s said. I gave Dalisay that same mannerism.

So you see … there are a variety of things we can use to create characters who are unique, multidimensional, and have depth.

What tools or methods do you use when creating your own characters?

~ Dawn


  1. Great post, Dawn! So interesting about Dalisay. Love the name, BTW:) Characters are so interesting and really have a life of their own. Using photos are tremendously helpful to me, too, since I'm a visual type. I don't have a method for my character madness, so to speak, and kind of let them create themselves. Later I tweak them if needs be. In my upcoming book, a male character that wasn't even in the synopsis entered the story in chapter 2 and ended up taking over the whole novel and driving the plot. I was a bit shocked. Still am. He's the bad guy but no spoilers here! Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I'll be thinking about this one as I work...

  2. Thanks, Laura! I appreciate your comments. I love the name Dalisay too. I discovered it while researching Filipino names. It means "pure." That's interesting--and funny--how a character unexpectedly took over. They do sometimes surprise us! Can't wait to read your next release!

  3. I have trouble with creating characters myself but you've given me some great tips and things to think about! Thanks for the post, Dawn.

    1. Hi Allyn! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know the article was helpful. :-D


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