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5 Tips to Creating Characters

Let's focus on Characters!  I absolutely love to create new characters. Creating them from scratch can seem like a daunting prospect, but you don't need to do all the work. Look around! Use what you know and who you know. This is your chance as a writer to make that boyfriend with the small irritations into a perfect man ready for love. Or you can make that awful boss over into the total idiot you think she is and next she is the one who gets killed or fired. All you have to do is exaggerate some of those terrible faults or correct the bad ones. 

Okay, that sounds like such a delightful exercise, but there are other things to consider as you go about making up new characters.  You want them to be lifelike, but what could be easier than looking around you.  Here are five tips for creating characters.

1. Use what or who you know. This is where that boyfriend or boss comes in.  Look at the people around you and by taking their worst or best attributes you can begin to frame a real person. I've never used my mother as a person in a book, but I have used some of her phrases in more than one and I often look to her personality as a basis for characters. I have often thought of her determination and gumption when it comes to creating a strong woman. She was all of 4'11, but when she got something into her mind to make happen, she was going to get it done.

2. Look beyond the obvious.  Don't think that because you show a character one way they can't learn or develop in another.  Again I return to my mother. She was quick to tears so people often underestimated her because of her size and her emotions. They thought she was frail and weak. But like I said, when she made up her mind, she could become an 8 foot wave of power. I use those traits in some of the women in my books.

3. Search for characters wherever you go.  I always try to be aware of my surroundings wherever I am and whatever I am doing, studying everything from people in the crowds to the temperature in summer and winter to the smell of different locations.  Engaging the senses helps me not only bring setting and feeling into a story, but it also helps me as I develop characters. Meeting someone new, I might be aware of their soft voice or their firm handshake. What are they wearing? What about a strange little habit that they might not be aware of, like tapping a finger or whistling under their breath.  Those can all be taken and given to characters somewhere and sometime.

4. Make up characters from people you know.  I am always thinking of new ways to use the people I know in a book, again taking some of those small traits and making them larger than life or taking a trait (like stubbornness) and giving it to a character. In a book I can change that stubborn person to realize how wrong their behavior is. (something I might not be able to teach a person I know)

5. Use your childhood heroes.  As a child in a small town I didn't get to meet people who were larger than life. I often had to make up my own heroes and heroines.  Didn't we all play make believe as children and make up people around us? We can still use some of those made up villains and heroes today as writers. Recently while I was working on a book, I remembered one of the first heroines I ever created as an imaginary friend. I welcomed her back into my life in a book.  I won't say when and where she's appearing, but she's there.

The final tip I would give is to always keep looking.  Every time you meet a new person you might be meeting the next hero or heroine in a story. And if you don't like them, you can always make them always turn them into a villain!  

Need some help with building the characters for your next book?  I'll be teaching a class starting next week at Savvy Authors: or you can also look for my new book on characters available at Amazon.



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