Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Writing Characters

Please welcome Lee Brazil to my blog. Lee is the fabulous author of books like Loving Eden and the Truth or Dare Series. I hope you enjoy his blog on creating characters. 

A while back I answered some interview questions with someone, and I knew I'd come back to this one at some point. That point has arrived.

How do you create your characters?

The real answer to this is that each one is created differently. Some characters come from a picture, some from a characteristic, others from an ideal.  But that's just the beginning.

Have you ever read a book where you didn't bond with the characters? I'm not talking about a villain you despised, or a lover you hated, or anything like that. In those cases, generally speaking, from my own admittedly narrow perspective, the author intends you to dislike the cheater and sympathize with the loyal lover. 

There are certain characteristics that your hero has to have...USUALLY.  Not ALWAYS. Kindness, compassion, loyalty, fidelity, integrity, honor. Noble, heroic stuff.  Which is great. But...he also has to be a reflection of real men.  So, naturally he has to be flawed. Arrogant, selfish, vain, unseeing, harsh, hard, cunning, ruthless....Every great hero has a touch of villain in him. I usually try to determine at least one, maybe two guiding characteristics for each hero. When it's time to make choices is he guided by lust or caution? When love comes knocking, is he too busy working, or partying?

That's not enough. That can't be all he is. The reader has to know the character to like the character. He can't just be loyal and vain. 

I mean, two ordinary guys and you spent eighty pages reading about them, and at the end, they were strangers to you. You didn't care if they got together, stayed together, or touched then went their separate ways (kudos to Journey).

That's not your fault. It's the characters. More precisely, it's the author's fault. It's been my fault some times. So, I've been working at adding depth to my characters, making them full.  And I've found a lot of great advice out in the web world.

So, for my next story, I'm filling pages with information about each character before I even start. (I can't just make it up; I have to write it down. I've been known to forget what color my heroes' eyes are. So...yeah notes are necessary.) I started easy, went to challenging, then opted for silly.  Here's a small sampling of what I'm talking about.  I may even take this information and go back to rework some things I've already done.

  1. Physical Appearance – cannot get around it its so important in a romance! Including:
    1. Colors: hair, eyes, skin, lips,
    2. Shapes: jaw, chin, brow, head, frame
    3. Size: body, (build) head, hands, feet, waist, shoulders,

  1. Personal Preferences
    1. Eats/ Drinks: Meals, snacks, alcohol, morning, lunch
    2. Entertainment: Books, music, television, movies,
    3.  Art, home furnishings, cars

  1. Philosophical aspects
    1. Wants
    2. Needs
    3. Desires
    4. Motivating force

Then, I started gathering fun questions...

  1. What would your character grab first when making a quick escape?
  2. What's in his refrigerator? Under his bed? In the closet?
  3. What's his most treasured article of clothing and why?
  4. He's going out- where? What does he wear?
  5. Visiting a friend in the hospital- what does he bring? How does he feel about the visit, the hospital?

Then I started thinking about that flaw. 
1.     Where'd it come from?
2.     Does he realize it exists?

And the virtue...Same questions.

Now, the fact that Nathan likes linguini, and the only thing in Perry's fridge is a jar of olives and a black banana may never make it into your story, but if you know the characters, these details should color their lives in the pages of your book, and hopefully, help readers connect.

So, how about you help me out with Nathan and Perry? Give me a quirky question- something you'd love to see answered about a character, some off the wall fact you think would help develop these guys before their story starts. Just type it write in the comments down there and I'll add them to the fact sheet.


I’m an avid reader and former teacher of grammar and composition who believes that falling in love is the grandest adventure anyone can have.  In a nutshell, that’s every story I have to tell.  Relocating from the crazy pace of life in Southern California's Orange County to the beautiful and leisurely atmosphere of the Illinois countryside has given me the time to indulge the desire to write that I set aside when I started teaching years ago. Readers can find out more about me and my writing by visiting me at my blog, Lee's Musings or finding me on Facebook.  Feel free to drop me a line at  


Lee Brazil said...

Thanks for letting me babble over here, Sara!

Angel Martinez said...

If your character was one of the Seven Deadly Sins, which one would he be? What's one memory from his childhood that's guaranteed to make him cringe? (Not cry, just cringe.) What kind of pet is ideal for your character? (and if he doesn't like animals, I don't want to read about him :D )

Sorry, Lee, that was more than one...

Lee Brazil said...

But all very good ones!

BLMorticia said...

Great blog Lee. I've also been guilty about character depth so I do the same when I create them now. A lot of the times they just speak to me when I write or when I'm writing a rough synopsis. ;)

Savannah Chase said...

Those are great ways to build a character...I've got a bio sheet for mine as well. Each person has their own personality..These help a lot when you are in between projects and need to check out some info...

Davee said...

I started keeping a spiral notebook with songs, scenes, dreams, etc. But, now, I think I will add to the pages based on your helpful tips.
Thank you both, Sara and Lee!