Thursday, May 24, 2012

Creating Characters

robin's nest in my backyard
“Actions, looks, words, and steps form the alphabet by which you may spell character.” Johann Kasper Lavater (Swiss poet)

What a beautiful sunny day here in South Carolina! Our state motto is "Dum Spiro Spero,” which means: “While I breathe, I hope.” The motto matches the beauty I see outside my sunroom window this morning.

The photo on the left is from a maple tree in my backyard. The eggs have finally hatched, but the mama bird won’t let me get close enough to snap a good photo.

Welcome to Writers’ Corner. I hope you’ve all had a successful week of writing. Let’s talk about creating characters today. Writers visualize their characters and usually have a good sense of how they look and what makes them tick. However, the challenge is in realizing your reader is not a mind reader. Sometimes new writers overlook thorough characterization because they forget this.

Two major elements exist in creating believable characters. Characters possess both physical and emotional/spiritual traits.

Physical Traits
Is your character a red-head, brunette, or blond? Does he/she have blue, brown, or hazel eyes? Does she wear stiletto heels and mini-skirts? Does he have tattoos and like leather vests?

What kind of vehicle does your character drive? Maybe a motorcycle, a red Corvette, or a four-door family sedan? Perhaps one character is rugged, while another is dainty. Show it through their mannerisms.

A character will reflect the region they’re from. A Southerner speaks differently than a New Englander. Teens look and speak differently than adults.

Each character should have their own identity. This will be reflected in how they dress, as well as their demeanor. The Andy Griffith Show is a good example of this. Barney and Andy are polar opposites, yet they share Southern traits, clothing styles, and the same basic moral principles because it fits within the setting and storyline.
Give your characters real-life habits like chewing gum or nail biting.
Emotional/Spiritual Traits
Characters most often reflect their values and those with whom they associate. However, be careful not to create a character so moral they have no flaws or so flawed they have no redemptive quality about them. Either way, the reader has no incentive to keep reading because they can guess how the story will turn out based on this perfect character.
Is your character a struggling or backsliding Christian? Maybe they’re not saved at all. Do they have trust issues from previous broken or abusive relationships? Consistently show how the character grows from the first page to the last. Whatever spiritual or moral issue they struggle with should be resolved over the course of the book.
Even a subtle trait like being impatient versus patient will show in how quickly someone responds, like jumping out of a chair or remaining in a recliner upon receiving news. Just like in real life, one character might have a meltdown while another stands stoic in the face of adversity.
Perhaps a character loves hanging out at the mall—or they loathe shopping and will wear clothes until they’re almost threadbare.
Remember, character traits should have balance, and unless the traits enhance the character in the reader’s mind, don’t overdo them. No one wants to read about gum smacking or shopping when more important things should be progressing the story.
Take a look at your WIP. Are your characters as clearly defined on paper as they are in your mind? If you’d like an in-depth lesson on this subject, visit Camy Tang's website to purchase a 35-page character worksheet.
Now, I want to hear about your writing week. Are you on target for what you hoped to accomplish? Are you having a problem you’d like me to address in a future post? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Laura, I always enjoy your encouraging and instructive teaching. I write non fiction, but if I ever change my writing genre..I know this is one place I will come for some good basic counsel.
    Love your pictures they say...a picture is worth a thousand words!
    Blessings and thanks for sharing!

    1. Always good to hear from you, Glenda. I blog about non-fiction, as well, so please stop in again. I'm glad you enjoyed the photo. I thought it was neat! God bless you.

  2. Laura - thank you for stopping by and commenting. This is great information here and I love your blog - it's so useful!!! I pray you have a blessed weekend!

    1. Thanks, Rosilind. Good to hear from you again. Hope all is well in Croatia!

  3. I am not a writer, but stumbled here. Thanks for sharing and love the nest picture. Reminds me of my favorite book by Ann Voskamp. God Bless, you have a wonderful talent!

    1. Hi Alice, I blog about many different subjects to encourage people. Once a week, my focus is on encouraging other Christian writers. I hope you stop by again. God bless you, too!

  4. I love getting writing tips. So far, I'm only writing non-fiction but I will pass these on to other writing friends. Thanks!