5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to Create a Character to Remember

Sherry Foley

How to Create a Character to Remember is a Guest Post on Indie Author News by Sherry Foley - Author of the Suspense Fiction Book Switched in Death.


Creating a character a reader likes well enough to follow through the pages of your novel can be exciting…and terrifying.  What helps the writer not to show up to a blank page and experience stage fright?


When you set out to tell a story, one of the most important parts you should take into consideration is how believable are the characters you create.  If you understand your characters, you can bring them to life on the page for the reader.  If your characters are sketchy to you, they will be sketchy to the reader as well.  Create a character you want to spend time with, get to know, and have in charge of your story.  What is the true test that you’re onto a real character?  When you realize your characters have come alive enough that they begin to direct the story and you’re just to follow along taking notes.

How does one reach that exhilarating moment?

Some find it helpful to fill out detailed character sheets of questions on your characters or to interview them.  I have a friend that sets up a portfolio on each character right down to a picture she finds in a magazine or online.  It’s important to seek a method that works for you and stick to it.  You need to humanize your character by giving them true to life flaws.  Do they click their pens incessantly?  Sniff as they talk? Jangle change in their pockets? Twirl their hair? What traits do they have that can become familiar to the reader?  Not only do these little elements bring the character to life, but they separate the characters in the story from one another as well.  Having distinct characters will aid the reader in tracking everyone so they don’t become confused and can concentrate on your storyline.

A couple of my favorite areas of “research” on this subject is to people watch and eavesdrop. You can learn so much by observing others discretely while waiting in line, shopping in a store or sitting at a table eating.  The next time you find yourself sitting stopped in your car, watch how the pedestrians walk…saunter or shuffle.  Take mental notes.  Practice and train yourself to utilize all of your senses as everything you observe can be used later in a story.

What characters do you think back about with fondness?  Nancy Drew? Wuthering Height’s Heathcliff and Cathy? Harry Potter?  Whoever comes to mind, zero in on what was memorable enough to linger in your memory.  That author did a good job of reeling you in for a visit and upon completion the story, you took the character with you.

That is your goal the next time you start a story!

Happy writing and remember-always write with the reader in mind.

Link to the Book Switched in Death with Excerpt

Connect with Sherry Foley via Twitter: @Sherry_Foley


Linda Rettstatt said...

Sherry,great post. I agree with everything you've said about making characters come to life. I write character-driven stories, and without memorable, real, engaging characters--I'd have nothing. I, too, love to people-watch and eavesdrop. :)

Sally Pratt said...

Hi Sherry. I am speaking from the reader's perspective. I am just getting into your new book, Switched In Death. After just a few chapters I made a mental note to "tell Sherry this." The fact is...you do a very good job of creating characters. I rather enjoy the writing style where each chapter is devoted to one of the characters written in the first person. If the writer doesn't do a good job of character building, the reader can be left wondering who is "talking" and sometimes have to go back and search earlier chapters to figure it out. You nailed it...in your book...and in this article.

Sherry Foley said...

Linda, Thank you for stopping by and your never ending support!!!

Sherry Foley said...

Sally, I appreciate hearing your reader opinion. It's priceless for an author to know what works and what readers want. Thank you for stopping by and for purchasing my book. Take care.

The Absurdist said...

Great tips Sherry. Creating more memorable characters with more depth is a goal for me on this second novel I'm working on. I've started to think more about my characters: their past, appearances, quirks, goals, what drives them, etc. Once I have a complete picture of the characters I build around that and try to bring them to life.

Sherry said...

Thank you Kevin! Good for you focusing on creating more memorable characters. I was in a pitch session once where the agent looked at me as asked, "Which character in your book would you go to dinner with?" I chose one and she said, "What would they order and why?" Without pasue I said,"A salad, when they'd really want the stacked juicy burger, but they would worry it would be too messy." My character was a worry wart and anal. The agent loved the quick response. She said, "I only request material from writers who really KNOW their characters inside and out."

Your writing "Once I have a complete picture of the characters I build around that and try to bring them to life," is key!

Good luck to you on you second novel Kevin. You're off to a great start.

Take care and thank you so much for stopping by.


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Richard Beckham II said...

Good suggestions, thanks! Another trick is to take different characteristics from friends and put them together to make a new fictional character. I like the portfolio and eavesdropping ideas (it's not rude to admit to doing that is it?). Thanks again!

Dean Bryant Johnson said...

Thank you for the insight! I have two serials going and have a few characters that need some work. Been beating m head against a wall trying to figure out what's wrong and you helped me figure it out--more work on those characters!

Thank you!

Nancy Jill Thames said...

I live in such a perfect world that it's difficult to give my protagonist character flaws! I am trying, though! Now I have her attracted to "Bad Boys" and being a touch too nosy for her own good. Nice post, Sherry!

Nancy Jill

Sherry said...

Dean, I'm glad I could help. Wow. My work is done early here and sounds as if I should celebrate by stopping in at Starbucks. That brings me to my next point: On your next drive somewhere try observing people walking along the way or in their cars. Take up a bit of people watching. Sometimes just being able to write a few character gestures into the story helps you yourself to SEE the character better. Like: She set the bagel down and pinched the napkin with her fingers. You've two serials going at the same time? Sounds as if YOU'RE the one in need of coffee! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate your helping me. :-)

Sherry said...

Richard, Thank you. Yes, blending characteristic from friends is great as long as they can't recognize themselves. *wink* I once sat in front of two very rude parents at one of my kids soccer games. They yelled harsh things at every kid at there and hounded them. They ended up dead in my next book. Very theraputic wouldn't you say? :-) Ah..the power of the written word. No, it isn't rude at all to admit to liking the eavesdropping idea. Everyone does it. Everyone. It is however rude for one to pretend you don't do it. LoL. GOOD LUCK with your writing and I hope to see you pass my path again on our travels.

Sherry said...

Nancy Jill,
I want to live in your world. Hah! I think your main problem is your picture. By that I mean from it I'm gathering you are as sweet as can be and aren't the type to hone in on the flaws of others. I visit your lovely site and see confirmation. Read this next sentence very carefully, feel free to repeat to yourself out loud as often as you need. IT IS OKAY FOR MY CHARACTERS TO HAVE FLAWS! In fact, think of all the books and shows you've watched and the particular characters you remember. They've etched in your brain for some reason. Flaws. That's what indears us to that person. We either can personally relate because we see ourselves in that character or someone we know. Those very things are what you need to capture in your fingers and release into your characters. They will etch in your readers minds and they will be turning the page for more. GOOD LUCK with your writing. YOU CAN DO IT!

Shannon Donnelly said...

For years I struggled with my main characters--everyone else showed up on the page. That's when it clicked--those character sheets were too much. They gave me wooden lead characters. So I started writing everyone as secondary characters. Now I let the characters come to life on the page for me--works so much better for me that way. I go for the basics--what does he want, why does he want it, what's stopping him, what does he really, really, really want. And what's his secret. The rest evolves.

Unknown said...

I like giving my characters "rap" sheets, too. I also like working with motives; they each have to have something they really want, whether it has anything to do with the storyline or not. They also have core beliefs that drive their actions. For example, my Josalee comes from a family that stayed together only because her parents had her; she strongly believes that all children should have a married mother and father. Even though she knows her child's father is gay and it will never happen, she keeps trying to force her best friend to be with her.

I have a lot more fun writing a character with quirks, motives, and core beliefs.

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