Creating Characters

Stuck for inspiration when it comes to characters? Or perhaps your characters lack depth. This exercise will help you find inspiration for new characters.

To begin this exercise, make a list of five people you know well. Then make a list of five characters (from fiction, TV or film) who you also feel you know well. These do not have to be people and characters that you like or admire, simply that you know well enough to write something about.

Now, randomly take a person from the first list (close your eyes and point or something similar). Write a physical description of the person. Because it is someone you know well, you should be able to do more than describe their hair and eyes. Use all five senses.

Sight
Don’t say the person has brown hair – indicate what shade as descriptively as possible – mocha brown, midnight black, the golden tones of the sun. Do the same with eye color. What about skin tone? Height? Tall or short doesn’t say much, being relative to the size of the reader. Build? Again, don’t use big or small – how about hulking or diminutive? Gait? How does the person walk?

Sound
What does the person sound like? Is their voice booming or melodic? And their laugh? Do they hum or grumble as they go about their work?

Smell
How does the person smell? Every person has some sort of scent – the woody smell of aftershave, the tangy smell of stale sweat, reeking of cheap perfume, the unique smell of a newborn baby.

Touch
Is their skin smooth or rough? Roughly hairsuit or downy and soft? When you touch them do they tense up or are they soft and yielding?

Taste
This may be more difficult. Of course if you’ve kissed them you may have something to say.

Now for your second list. Again randomly select one character to describe. This time, however, you are going to describe personality traits rather than physical ones. Write down as many descriptors of your character’s personality as you can. Avoid inane words like bad or nice and try to expand on your choice of words: loyal – always stands by his friends – tries to deceive those around her.

Now, think about your character’s likes and dislikes. Do you know what he/she likes to eat? How he/she likes to dress? Pastimes and hobbies? Remember these things are not always stated – sometimes they are shown – yes, even in print genres! If a character frowns when a baby is anywhere near, what does that say about his/her attitudes?

What about your character’s beliefs? Is he/she religious? Does he/she believe in the sanctity of marriage? Is he/she politically inclined? Superstitious?