Creating Characters

Next, your character’s motivations. What makes him do the things he does? Is s/he driven by money, greed or ambition? Is s/he seeking love or perhaps acceptance? This is a complex question because, as in real life, most characters are driven by more than one motivation.

Note your character’s personal habits – good and bad. Is s/he neat or messy? Well-presented or scruffy? Punctual and organised, or always late?

You may think of other elements of your character which don’t fit neatly into the above categories. Write them down – make him/her as detailed as possible.

Now the creative bit. You are going to take your friend and your borrowed character and join them to become one person – a brand new character of your own. Re-read both descriptions before beginning to write a new description which combines the two. Remember that you are now trying to create a character you can use in your writing, so some changes may be necessary.

Give your character a new name – this should be distinct from either of the names of the people you based him/her on, although you may be clever. If your ‘borrowed’ character was Heathcliff, your new one may be called Heath, for example, but this is not necessary.

You may find you need to adapt or tone down some of your characteristics in order to combine them. For example, if your physical description is of a petite woman and your borrowed character is a gruff bodyguard, you may want to make some changes. But don’t be too hasty – what about a diminutive female who looks frail and helpless but is really a martial arts expert?

As you write your new description, your character should gradually be moulded into someone who is neither your friend nor your borrowed character, but a whole new identity. You may find yourself making up elements which come from neither of the previous descriptions and this is fine. This is your new character asserting him/herself.

When you have written as well-rounded a profile of your character as you can, try using him or her as the basis of a new story. An idea may have presented itself to you as you wrote your description, suggested by the combination of the physical and personality profiles. Or you may create a second character using the same process and then explore the interaction between them. A third alternative is to take one of the following situations, put your character in it and see what happens:

  • How would your character react if left alone with a child? Would s/he be in control of the situation, or have no idea how to cope? Would s/he be caring and compassionate, or cold-hearted?
  • What part would your character play in a bank robbery? Would s/he be the thief or a victim? Would s/he be panicked, calm or brave?
  • On a shopping expedition for a gift, how would your character behave? Would s/he love the browsing and spending, or would s/he be wanting to buy something and make a quick escape? Would s/he be miserly or generous?

You can put your character into any number of situations and look for a story, or part of a story, to emerge.

Sally Murphy is an Australian author, teacher and mother. She has written educational texts, children’s books and a parenting Ebook, as well as loads of online and print articles.