Character Inspiration

Today’s Question: where does the inspiration come from for the characters that writers create?

Yourself Write what you know. That’s pretty common advice, and something that many writers do, even when it comes to creating characters. (Or at least the readers like to look for evidence of it.) Who do you know better than yourself? Basing a character, at least in part, on yourself gives you plenty of fodder for development.

Someone You Know How many writers do you think base characters, at least in part, on people they know? Probably a lot of them. Just be careful that you don’t copy them too closely, especially if they might read your work and recognize themselves! You sure wouldn’t want Great Aunt Tilly to recongize that sardine jello surprise everyone makes fun of at Thanksgiving dinner, right?

Someone You See Writers are often quiet creatures–observant, thoughtful, and curious–so with those qualities, […]

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Committing Series: Characters


I mentioned in my last post that character story arcs are extremely important to me as a writer. I want my characters to change: I want them to start somewhere and end someplace else. It can be a significant change or a subtle one, but I want to put them through those paces.

But then there are the characters who surprise you. Characters you might have plans for who go totally off the rails–and if you want to know the truth, practically all of the Walker Papers characters went off the rails. I’m going to talk mostly about Gary, Joanne’s 74-year-old cab-driving sidekick, behind the cut, although I can’t talk about where it all ends because it gets Too Spoilery. 🙂


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Brandy Schillace: On Character Building (One Donut Shop at a Time)

I have a great affinity for donut shops…But not because I am especially fond of pastries.

It has more to do with the reality of such places. Here, the mundane becomes concrete and tangible: the florescent pink door handle, the flickering light of glass cases, the smell of coffee and powdered sugar (and crisping dough creations in the back-room oven). From the badly designed Styrofoam cups–with lids that never quite fit–to the faux wood shelves attempting to capture a sense of “rustique,” the donut shop is quintessential for one of my favorite fiction exercises… the character build.

Why? Why not create character in a chic Parisian cafe? Or a veranda in Venice? Or a yacht off the Caribbean coast? You could. But the goal is to create a real, live character–someone readers can identify with and believe in. Unless you spend a great deal of time traveling to or researching […]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part III

5: Research

I flat-out love research, as I find it inevitably sparks new ideas for a story or novel. If you’re writing in the ‘Here & Now,’ it’s not quite as necessary, but unless you do exactly what every last one of your characters do, and you have the same background, education, and interests as all of your characters, you’re still going to need to go out and seek information. In my classes, I give my students this scenario: Your character is a upper-class woman living in New York in 1855. Your story starts with her waking up in the morning. How happens next? What’s she wearing? And from there, I give them a (brief) outline of how such a woman from that era would generally be dressing — which usually leaves them a little stunned.

As writers of speculative fiction, we generally have a lot of research to do. […]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part II

In the first installment, I covered the first two strategies: 1) the Physical Details, and 2) Show vs. Tell. We’ll pick up from there…

Strategy 3: Dialogue

I think, for me, that this may be the Big One — the strategy with the most impact on characterization for both good or ill. If you fail at getting the dialogue right, the character will also fail, but if you get it right… well, then the character will stir and come to vivid life on the page.

With dialogue, we add an entirely new sense to the character, because as soon as you enclose words inside those quotation marks, the readers begins to not only see the character, but to hear her or him. We give the character a voice — and each character should have her or his unique voice. Everyone who grew up before the time of your phone telling […]

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Stephen Leigh, on Seven Strategies for Characterization, part I

In my creative writing classes, I generally break fiction into four basic components: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme. I spend more time on characterization than the others, honestly, since I think that no matter what genre you’re writing, the reader cares primarily about the characters. You can be a tremendous worldbuilder and create an incredibly intricate background for the novel; you can have a blazing plot with startling shifts and turns and unexpected directions (all properly foreshadowed, of course); you can lay a deep, meaningful foundational theme underneath everything to support the entire structure. That’s all fine, but if the characters are wooden and one-dimensional, it’s also all for naught. Yet if the characters are complex, real, and compelling, then the reader will forgive small defects in setting, plot, and theme… because it’s the characters we care about.

It’s the characters we remember when we close a book. We […]

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Chris Marie Green — on character

The Character with No Name

A huge thanks to Faith Hunter for inviting me to be here during January. 🙂 I’m excited to hang out with you all, discussing writerly things with writerly people. Since I’m back “in the writing cave” after the holidays, I need the social contact!

Today I get to talk about craft—creating a character, to be precise. And I’d like to focus on one of my characters in particular. As luck would have it, Faith, who is making a wonderful habit of issuing fantastic invitations to me, asked me to write a novelette for an anthology she was editing called Kicking It, and after I jumped at the opportunity, I settled down and wondered what (and who) I was going to write about. An established character from a series I’d already published? A new character altogether? Or a spin-off character who previously played a supporting […]

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