Feb 20, 2015

Character Building 101

When you begin to write a story, you have a protagonist, the "hero." And then a friendly neighborhood antagonist, or "villain."

In other words, characters drive a story. Without characters, you have nothing. And if you're like me, characters are the most important part of any story. Characters draw a reader in, and make then feel the story.

So here I am, for a post on character building.

Have you ever heard of a Mary Sue? Here's the definition, just in case: A Mary Sue is a character that the author identifies with so strongly that the story is warped by it.

While Mary Sue characters are the easiest to write, they also, well, warp the story. Mary Sue's may have perfect hair, perfect teeth, and only lose their temper in fits of righteous anger against the evils of the world. They never do anything wrong, or they are so bad, that they are a cliche.

But your characters deserve more than just a Mary Sue. They have lives of their own, and you are charged with the responsibility of bringing those lives into the story. So, after a lengthy introduction, character building  101.

Step the first: What purpose does your character bring to the story? Is he/she an antagonist, protagonist, or just a general plot pusher, who will die in the first few pages? Because believe me, those characters are just as important. Once you have that in mind, move along to their character.

Step two: building a character. This is not a really dumb pun, I promise. I mean literal character. Bringing a bit of life to them. For example, Aunt Lucy, from a series I'm writing, is "One of those people who hands out free advice, and then feels hurt if you don't take it." Decide their qualities, either good or bad. What makes them who they are?

Step three: FLAWS. Yes, you heard me write. Flaws bring characters to life. Mae, a protagonist, doesn't have to be perfect the whole time. In fact, readers will enjoy her more if she yells sometimes, if she gets mad for a stupid reason, and in general-behaves like a human.

Step four: picture them in your mind. Either find a physical picture of them (google images can work wonders), draw them, or just describe them to yourself, until they become 3D. Maybe use their clothing to add little touches of POOF to them. Perhaps John Doe always carries an umbrella, or Violeta Smith only wears purple.

Step five: Explore their mind. Do they behave crazy and goofy because they are trying to cover up their pain? Or are they silent and austere because they lost their favorite chicken ten years before? Don't hesitate to add a few of your own emotions into them. Not so much as to make them a Mary Sue, but right about what you know. Just about every character I create has a little me in it, and I try to use that to bring my characters to life, but not in a Mary Sue way.

Step six: Enjoy them, and have fun. Do they have a crazy pitch to their voice? Embrace it. Do they wear weird clothes? Who cares! Let the characters write themselves in a way. Talk to them, and get close to them. Because once you've put your heart into characters, you've just upped your writing style by about 10,000 points.

Caroline signing off.


  1. Thanks for this post on characters, Caroline! I enjoyed reading it :)

  2. Great post, Caroline! It's got some really good tips! :D

  3. I'm trying to write a story and this is exactly what I needed to hear right now. :) thanks