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Fiction Series: Character Basics

Creating characters isn't an easy task. The days of picking a one-dimensional stereotype and being able to craft a narrative around them are long gone. With millions of books available, your characters need to resonate with your audience and feel so real people forget they're fictional!

Here are five things not to forget when creating your characters:


1. Physical Appearance

Although you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, a characters' appearance is usually the first impression a reader gets, and it tells a lot about the character.

The basics, like hair, skin and eye colour are all important, but readers will want to know about little things that make your character unique. This might be a scar, or a certain item of clothing they always wear.

It could even be their level of grooming - a well put together character will create a different image than a dirty one. What does this unique aspect show the audience about the character?

Remember, don't be too over descriptive. If the scar on their left knee from the time they fell off a skateboard isn't relevant to the story, it's not worth boring your readers with. It can be helpful to reiterate appearance occasionally to strengthen the image in the readers' mind, but don't underestimate them! Too much description will bore the reader and possibly stop them from reading on.

2. Personality

Now you know what they look like, you have to know who they are as a person. A hotheaded character will act very differently to a meek one. Personality should drive the story in many ways, as it will change how the main character interacts with the conflicts that occur.

You should attempt to avoid one-dimensional stereotyped characters, and instead create characters that feel like real people. Tropes like the strong hero man and the mean popular girl are extremely tired, and people are no longer interested in reading them. Make sure your characters are unique and relatable to your audience.

And remember the rule 'show don't tell'. Try to avoid describing the character's personality with phrases like "He was very shy". Instead, show the reader that your character is shy through their actions. A character's personality should be obvious through their body language and dialogue.

3. Background

Where does the character's personality come from?

You have to know your character's entire life story and how it impacts them today, even if your audience never finds out. Answer questions like:

  • Where are they from?

  • Did they grow up in a city or small town?

  • What is their family dynamic like?

  • Have they dealt with oppression?

  • Have they dealt with trauma?

And with these answers, go back to the character's personality, and make sure it all adds up. This is a great way to create a realistic character!

4. Wants/Needs

Your main character's desires will be one of the strongest drivers of your story. What is it that they want or need that creates conflict or makes them participate in the conflict?

Some characters just do good because they're good people, but others need a motive. Consider famous characters like Katniss Everdeen - she was never interested in saving the world, she only wanted to protect her family. She wasn't a hero and had no desire to be one, but was still thrown into the conflict. This made for a very interesting character arc!

Make sure your character has a purpose and reason for every action they take throughout your book. Even if they are the perfect hero, you have to know what made them that way.

5. Strengths and Weaknesses

Now, this is one of the most interesting aspects of your character. What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how do these affect the plot?

A good balance of strengths and weaknesses is important for any character to have. A one-dimensional, perfect superhero character isn't going to interest readers, because they're too powerful and therefore the conflict doesn't matter. Alternatively, a character who is too weak (physically or mentally!) will bore readers because they don't have anything to add.

Consider your own strengths and weaknesses, and how they've affected your life. A character should be just as driven and impacted by theirs!


Need help writing your book? Email me about Developmental Editing!

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