In my personal experience, one of the hardest parts of writing – besides finishing the book – is crafting characters. We don’t want them to have the same personality, the same outlook on life, the same reactions. We want them to jolt our readers, to be distinct, and to make an impression. Crafting one character can be difficult. Crafting many? Even harder.
How can we be successful in creating a memorable character? There is neither a specific recipe nor a black-and-white approach everyone must follow, but there are a few ways we can make crafting characters a fun event and not one of stress – and save some time while we’re at it.
There are multiple questions you can ask to learn more about your characters, questions you can find by doing a quick search. Their favorite color. Their favorite food. Their least favorite memory. Someone’s who impacted their life.
These questions are fine, and certainly have their place; however, they’re shallow, meaning they don’t tell you much about your character. You can change that by asking why blue is your character’s favorite color. What makes that memory their least favorite. Why is their grandma someone who’s seriously impacted their life.
Perhaps blue reminds them of a beloved object, or the wide open sky, which resembles freedom. Maybe that memory was when a loved one was injured, or they said something they shouldn’t have and hurt another, and now live with that guilt. Maybe their grandma walked beside them as they struggled through tough life events or helped them through a difficult time.
I’m not saying to do this with every question; in fact, I advise that you not. That would be over-complicating things, which just makes it harder on you while developing your character. Pick about a third of the “shallow” questions you ask and put some depth into them. Not everyone has a favorite color because it resembles or reminds them of something.
We often forget to focus on the nitty-gritty. The questions obviously depend on the character, but by simply studying those around us, we can conceive perfect questions to help shape and mold our characters. By simply studying ourselves we can gain insight on how to add depth to our characters. Everyone believes a lie about themselves. Everyone has had past experiences that affect their outlook on life. Is your character jaded and/or cynical from being betrayed by who they thought was a close friend? This will seriously impact how close they allow others to get to them, which causes a multitude of trickle-down effects.
Do they connect better with those younger or older than them? Why? If they are sarcastic, is it because that’s just the way they are or is it a self-protection method? And what about how they deal with bullies? This can tell you a lot about your character. Are they the type to confront them head on? Will they get help or tiptoe past and pretend like it’s not their issue? All three methods can be both strengths (well, not the third one – that’s just cowardice) and weaknesses.
Don’t forget about how your character reacts to someone they dislike – dislike as in someone who annoys you but you can’t really verbalize why; you just don’t like them. When forced to speak with them, do they exhibit a polite facade, or do they withdraw and cut the conversation as quickly as possible? My parents and sister do a good job of acting like they have no issue being around a generally annoying individual. Myself, not so much.
These are but a few of the plethora of questions you can ask to gain insight and add depth to your character. Be creative, don’t be afraid to delve into the tough aspects.
FIND A CHARACTER SONG
I connect with songs. They say the words I can’t, and there’s nothing like listening to a song that captures how you feel or voices the pain or emotion you’re dealing with.That’s one reason why my MCs usually have at least three character songs. Don’t worry, you don’t need three to create a three-dimensional character. Find a song that captures your character. This helps not only form your character, but when you’re in a writing rut or suffering from writer’s block, listening to your character’s song can help unlock creativity.
Below are two songs for a current MC. Both songs capture his struggles and his voiceless cries for normalcy, answers, and understanding of past events. “20/20” has a strong hope and faith message, while “Save Me” is raw and gritty.
FIND YOUR CHARACTER A BIBLE VERSE, CATCHPHRASE, and QUOTE
Every part of the Bible is important, but there are some verses/chapters/books that our souls just connect to, or verses that slam into us and cause us to acquiesce that this is something we need to work on, something we need to grow in. One Bible verse that will greatly influence one of my characters is Micah 6:8b. Not only does this enhance the overall faith element of your writing, it helps grow your character’s faith, as well.
Just as everyone has a catchphrase, a pet word, or a phrase they repeat or say often, so should your characters. That’s only natural. I’ve been told one of my pet words is “technically”. One of my character’s pet phrases is You can do better, Oren.
There are always quotes that remind us of others. My sister is short. A quote that reminds me of her is “Short person problems” (because she can’t reach a thing and the first thing they did when she was training in at work was to show her the step-stools. Poor munchkin.). A quote for one of my characters is by G.K. Chesterton:
Whenever God means to make a man great, He always breaks him in pieces first.G.J. Chesterton
GIVE YOUR CHARACTER PERSONALITY
I find personality type quizzes amusing. Sometimes they’re terribly off. Other times, like for the MBTI test, it’s straight on. This plethora can help you find a personality for your character. You don’t necessary need to make them a specific type or number or quadrant (e.g. ISTJ, ENFP, Choleric, Melancholy), but draw from the types to create your character. Do they act based on emotion or thought? Does human interaction energize or drain them? Are they jovial or grumpy? Are they “feeling or facts” or “facts over feeling”?
Are they quick tempered or slow to boil? What about their quirks? Do they organize, drum their fingers, twiddle with something, or pace when they’re nervous? How do they react to authority and structure? Do they thrive on structure and law or are they free spirit? Do they prefer being in charge, following the leader, or are they adaptable to both? Are they a realist, optimist, pessimist, or opportunist?
Here’s a snippet of a quick character personality list for a new character I’m creating:
Secretly cares but doesn’t want the world or himself to know | Likes: Snickerdoodle cookies [also his deceased sister’s fave] | Hates: Spinach | Weapon of Choice: whatever gets him out of his current situation | Phobia: tight spaces – because of what happened on that day
This tells you:
1) he’s a grouch (he’ll be working on that)
2) he likes a certain treat because his sister did
3) he hates spinach (in this we’re kindred spirits)
4) he has a gift of finding trouble
5) something happened that makes him have a serious fear of tight spaces (poor thing. He’ll rue the day he discovers I know that).
There are major aspects of the personality and minor aspects. You needn’t be a psychology major to craft a character who strikes readers’ hearts and steals the story. Determining some simple, quick facts will not only make your character unique, but affect how they interact with other. And unless your character is a hermit living in a part of the land only they know of, they will interact with others at some point.
These are but a few ways you can craft a characters. As aforementioned, there is not specific recipe or black-and-white way. Still, characters with depth are necessary to your story.
What are some ways you craft your characters? What are some difficulties you encounter doing so? Or, if you’re a reader, what are ways you think writers/authors can improve character development? Let me know! Or, if you just want to talk about life, drop a post!
Seven Things to Know As You Begin Your Writing Journey
4 thoughts on “Crafting Characters”
I love Micah 6:8! Such a great verse, and there’s a beautiful Scripture song to go along with it.
Crafting characters is such a difficult part of writing, yet one of the most rewarding parts. It’s just an incredible feeling when you connect with characters and relate to them on a deep level. As a reader as well as a writer, I find it intriguing that there are only a handful of book characters I have made such a strong connection with that I think about them every day. And those characters are from the books – which are actually a very few number of books – that have impacted me and changed my life the most.
My literary hero is Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, precisely because I connected with him literally the second he entered the story. Now that’s extremely rare. Usually, even with the characters I end up loving the most, it takes at least two chapters to convince me I ought to stay to see what happens to them. But my connection with Valjean was immediate, and for the rest of the story I could not leave his side. As the story went on, I loved Valjean more and more, and he stayed in my heart long after the story ended. The hope, redemption, and love for humankind that he represents – not to mention his rocky path to get there – is what did it for me. Les Misérables is filled with incredible characters. I loved the Bishop wholeheartedly, and never forgot him even after the story ended, although his physical appearance in the book is very brief compared to the other characters. In fact, I connected with him so quickly that I still see him as the hero of the novel. Nothing would have happened without him. Victor Hugo is a genius at character development.
My other literary hero is Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird because of the ray of light he represents in a seemingly hopeless, heartless community. Jem, Scout, Dill, and Calpurnia are amazing, and I even got to understand Aunt Alexandra as the story progressed and her true character unfolded. My one and only problem with TKAM is that there is just not enough backstory to make us understand how each character got to be the way they were. The story would have been even more incredible had we seen the characters’ histories and just been able to understand how their individual paths led them to their current place. Especially with Atticus. I love his kind, benevolent character, but we’re never told how he got to be an antiracist or as Cecil Jacobs would say, a “radical.” I wish that had been explained. It’s kind of strange that there’s no explanation for how, in a family and a world filled with white supremacy and racism, Atticus grew up to be completely different from everyone else.
Now to wrap up this extremely long comment. Why do I never realize how much I write? XD Hope you don’t mind reading my essay. Great tips, Madi, and have an awesome day!
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Yes, Casting Crown’s song! So beautiful, and now it’ll be going through my head the rest of the day, ha!
Les Mis and TKAM. Why am I not surprised? 😉 I never could get into Les Mis, but I definitely understand Atticus Finch being one of your literary heroes. Perhaps it was because he realized all are made equal in God’s sight. Backstory definitely would have been nice, but the lack thereof gives TKAM an air of mystery and forces the reader to stay with the present plot instead of delving into what circumstances formed the characters. I can see it both way. Curse of being a writer and reader, I suppose. XD
Ha, I know, right? If we wrote as much on our books as we did our blog comments, we’d have them written in a few weeks. Hey, essays are fine – I’ve done a few of them myself! Thanks, Joy, and thanks for stopping by!
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This was so helpful, Madi! I enjoyed reading this post and it came out just in time, because I’ve been creating new characters recently!!
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So happy it could help. Good luck crafting your characters (and, I presume, a new book?)- I’d love to know more about them!