Karl Taylor: Creating Characters

Okay, they say everyone has an opinion. Guess what? So do I! For me, it’s the characters that make the story, not the other way around. Strong, memorable personalities can make the difference between a good story and a great one. You might say, “Yeah? So how do I do that?” Well, I think my strong suit these days is creating characters and I’ll share with you how I go about it. Everybody will probably have their own way of doing this but maybe you’ll see some little thing you haven’t thought of before and you can use for your characters too.

  1.  What kind of character is it? Is it a good guy? Is it a bad guy? Is it a primary or secondary character?

Now, in my experience, this could change as you write your novel. You may fall in love with what you thought was a secondary character and they suddenly get a promotion. Anyway, when I create them, I treat secondary characters a little bit different than the primaries. I’ll get around to that later.

  1.  What does the character look like? Is it tall or short? Is it fat or thin?

Get a clear picture in your mind of exactly what they look like. You need this clear image when you write about them. Their physical build, their expressions, their scars, physical cues that give away their internal emotions, anything that you might notice about a close friend in the real world. You probably won’t give away all of this information to the reader ( I suggest you don’t. Let the reader use their imagination) but I feel it is important for you as the writer.

  1.  What is their personality? What are their physical quirks?

Are they shy? Are they a bully? Are they kind? Are they mean? You need to have all these things figured out before you put them into your writing. All these personal things will play a major part in how they react or their response to whatever situation you put them in.

  1.  What is their history? What was their childhood like? Do they have brothers or sisters? Are they married? Do they have children? What kind of jobs have they had in the past and what job do they have now? What is their name?

I go deeper into their backstory for the primary characters than I do the secondary characters. There is less need to put that much effort into a secondary character. The backstory gives more depth to a primary character and should be referred to at least a couple of times during the story. Think about talking to your friends. Sooner or later, they will refer to something about their family or something in their past or something about a job they had/have in any conversation that lasts more than a few minutes. We want to create characters that will feel as real to readers as any of their real life friends do.

  1.  Where were they raised? Are they highly educated?

The dialogue of your characters needs to sound realistic and where your character was raised will play a major part in that. I’m not suggesting that you, who were raised in the city poke fun at the country folk, but it is very true that a country boy or girl will talk differently than someone raised in a big city. The most important thing is to have consistency in their dialogue. You don’t want them talking like a hillbilly in chapter one and sound like an English professor in chapter three (unless there is a reason for them to do so).

Now that you have all this figured out for each character, you need somewhere to keep this information safe so you can refer back to it. I create a separate computer file to contain all this info in one handy reference. You may not see the need for this but I think it is very important, especially for your secondary characters who don’t appear regularly. You might have a character that appears in the first paragraph of page one but doesn’t appear again until the final paragraph of the final page, maybe page 365, and you may not remember that he spoke with a lisp on page one but it is important to be consistent in even these minor details,

If anything new comes up during your work about the character, (maybe he takes an arrow to the knee and he walks with a limp now) it is important to add this new characteristic or information to your bio that you’ve written on them. This is even more important if the setting of your work is to involve a series of books. Maybe they appear in book one and don’t reappear until book three.

Anyway, I hope that some of my suggestions help you in some small way. If I am missing something obvious, I hope you’ll let me know. All of us learn things every day and hopefully one day we can finish something and re-read it with satisfaction and say, “You know, that wasn’t half bad.” I hope if that day hasn’t come for you yet, that it comes very soon. Happy writing!

 

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3 thoughts on “Karl Taylor: Creating Characters”

  1. Excellent points, Karl. I especially agree with you about the characters driving the story. Stephen King has said that you’ve got to have interesting characters to make it all happen. He says that he likes to take a character he’s developed and put them in a hairy situation, then see how they figure things out.

    I also like the idea of a separate file for your characters. I learned the hard way about doing that as I’ve been working on my book. When I was going through some initial edits I found out that my main character had a different name in the earlier parts I’d written.

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  2. Thanks, Karl. Since my stories are about relationship issues and dysfunction, they are character driven, so my characters have to be really set apart . . . each unique. I’m struggling with one now, because the novel has more characters in it than I’m used to. I’d like to add a teensy bit of dialect in one or two characters dialogue. Not a lot, just a word or two, and I’m having difficulty finding how to do that. Any suggestions?

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