Tidbits of Who Your Characters are…

Tidbits of Who Your Characters are…

Traci Kenworth


How do you create a whole character? Tidbits, of course. By that, I mean there are facets of each of us that go into our story person. I would say that there is a sliver of our personalities in every one we write. Our shyness, our experience one day at the lake, a camping trip, a sad farewell, or a horrifying event. On and on the list can go. Perhaps a pinch comes from some stranger on the street, a sudden reaction they have, their voice, a part of their conversation. We can catch inspiration from anywhere and everywhere.

What do we do when we reel it in? Build, of course. Like an architect erects his masterpiece from the foundation up, so we must start with our story people. What is the heart of them? What do they care about the most? Twist it in a different direction. What is their greatest hatred about? What would they do if that came to pass? We must start with a grain of sand when it comes to our character, add another, twist, and build upon them strand by strand.

Don’t leave them flat. Only by feeding their personalities, combing their lives, can we bring them into a full-blown person. Example: I needed a snitch for a story. This character was a cult member. Twist: He was just thirteen and full of hatred for everyone, everything. I gave him something to care about: a girl who he brainwashes. She doesn’t change him in the sense that he goes from dark to light, but she gives him feelings of humanity he’s never had before. Thus he both hates her and is drawn to her because of this. The closer he gets to her, the more he is torn apart by her presence. “I always knew it would be you who destroyed me.”

You can draw a picture/pick one from a website for models but unless you go beyond the gloss to the ugliness and scars beneath, you won’t scratch the surface. Thus pretty boys becomes jocks with a Ted Bundy soul, a jock jacket, and a posse of beauties to choose from. Twist: he wants to kill himself, revenge on a world that saw him born into a society that caters to him, that applauds each success that he garners.

What are some of your own tricks? The ways we pull threads together to sew a greater depth about our story person can be amazing, magical. It makes the difference between a simple farm boy and one who discovers he is really a kidnapped prince. Use layers to make your characters stronger, more fulfilling to write about. The deeper you journey the better he/she will be as a hero/heroine.

Of course, there is a time to use some stock figures. That’s when we need to paint in a crowd, some person the character encounters on the street, or a business transaction for example. For these, simple details work best so as not to draw too much “attention” to them. A quick snapshot in our minds of a nurse, for example. The reader draws in the detail based on what the character looks like to them. We don’t spend needless time wasted on describing him/or her down to their shoes. This saves space for us to get in what we need to about our main characters.

Gather your puzzle pieces well. Insert them into the characters of your choice. Mix-and-match. Do something unusual. You can go anywhere you choose with your imagination and a few details.


21 thoughts on “Tidbits of Who Your Characters are…

  1. Beautiful post. I don’t write novels but I do write screenplays and character develop is VITAL for a good script. I like finding images online and using them as inspiration for my characters. Does wonders for the imagination!


  2. Nice post Traci! I don’t have any tricks really but would say that it’s really important to keep it real and make every single one of your character’s traits logical in the context of that character and the world in which they live.


  3. *An excellent post. Character-building is my favorite part of writing, but also the trickiest for me when it comes to justifying motivation for their actions. Sometimes it can feel like an impromptu science experiment, adding just the right amount of ingredients to get the proper result without having the directions!


    1. I need to pay closer attention to people’s actions to get fodder for my stories. Sometimes, I’m so focused on the conversation, I forget to pay attention to their reactions.


  4. This is a great post, Traci. I completely agree about the pieces of ourselves being in our characters and I love the image you drew of us being the architects and our characters buildings…that was awesome!
    I don’t have tips. Characterization is still something I struggle with and it’s hard for me to analyze while creating, but I do love them. 🙂


  5. Thanks, Jessica!! I like to think of our characters as being a building with so many floors included, each one with a different door to who they are. Door 1 opens to this memory, Door 2 to any facial tics, Door 3 to descriptions, and so on…


  6. Very insightful post, Traci. You are so right about building a character up, layer by layer. As a pantser, a lot about my character is revealed bit by bit through dreams, but there is also inspiration from watching others, people I know and, yes, even my inner soul seeps in. 🙂


  7. My method is a little weird. Characters come to me. And I work from the assumption that they’re complete. Then I get to know them by talking to them. ALOT. 😀


  8. I do character collages. I have a vague idea of who my characters are, and cut words and pictures out of magazines (mostly teen magazines) to create them. I even come up with things I hadn’t thought of before.


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  10. Usually I rip off real live people’s personalities and then add my own twist to come up with something new. Real life people I know and biographies are great source material.


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