How To Create Quality Characters
By John Hansen
Creating and developing characters is never an easy task, but there are numerous, easy ways to approach it. In this post, I’ll share my method for this madness, but keep in mind there are many other just as successful ways as well.
I tend to base a book off of a plot idea and then build the characters off of that plot. However, some authors prefer to start with the characters first, which is also fine. Using the plot idea I create, I judge what type of characters should go into the story. I always make sure that they are all loveable and relatable – except my antagonist or if this is horror, it doesn’t matter as much (though it still matters) – because if a character isn’t loveable, a reader won’t feel for him or her. They will then lose interest. It’s been proven. By science.
I tend to make a great collage of characters to add some zest to the story. My characters range from quirky secretaries who have the strangest, most hilarious rituals, to killers who bitterly regret murdering their neighbor and just want to make it right, to sadists, to brilliant detectives and so forth. When creating your characters, you must make sure that you create a wide range of personalities and also that they play well off of each other. A good range of characters is great, but characters t a good range of characters that don’t play well off of each other isn’t.
The second step of this process is what I refer to as the “skeleton” phase. I use my plot to create the basic skeleton for my more important characters. By knowing the plot, it isn’t too hard to figure out what type of character should be used; if you have a basic idea of what should happen in the book, you need to create a believable character that would do whatever their task is and have it make sense to the reader.
Once I’ve established the basic frame of my characters, I move on to developing them or as I like to call it, the “meat” stage. Beefing up characters is much harder than simply creating the skeleton, obviously. This is because as an author, I want – I need – to make my character as interesting as possible, but I have to keep in mind that I shouldn’t go too overboard. Otherwise, that character might not believably complete the task that he needs to in the book. I tend to, in the beefing stage, give my character some physical and personality traits I have, as well as the traits of people I know. My dad has this funny quirk where he claims that every TV show he likes is also a show I ‘love’ when I hardly enjoy it. The fathers in my stories or novels always have that same trait, because it is a nice, quirky addition to any father. I am, as strange as it sounds, a perfectionist. I am also very empathetic and quite humorous when you get to know me (and I’m modest, too). So are my characters, because I base them off of what I know. Characters are always more relatable and believable if they have a basis from a real person. Physical traits, personality traits all come into play. You need to make sure that whatever you do to your character doesn’t conflict with his role in the book.
After giving my character these traits, I go into the final stage, which I like to call the “makeup” stage. This is where I give my character interests, athletic ability, intelligence levels, more funny personality traits and rituals, or really anything I think might make my character unique or more appealing to a reader. These traits aren’t usually found in myself or anyone I know, just additions that fit into the plot and the character, as well as add a layer of interest and authenticity to that character.
And then, you have it: a finished character.
This post in short:
John Hansen is the author of “The Perfect Game“, a horror short story published by Trestle Press (available at all ebook retailers) and other random murderous pieces. His work appears in the lit mags “Raphael’s Village”, “Crack The Spine” and “Fingerprints” and may also be found in volume one of the “Dark Pages Anthology“.