I don’ need no character…

Whether your characters are planned out meticulously or spring fully formed from your imagination one thing all authors agree on is that characters need to be real.  So how do you go about making them three dimensional? There are a variety of ways, some of which we’ve shared below.

  1. While “The Writers Toolbox” by Jamie Cat Callan is mostly for plot and getting your story out, there is a vital piece related to characters.  She says it thusly: “Talk to your [character]…Ask your [character] what it wants. Sit down and write what the [character] would tell you if it could…”  In other words, interview your character. Write questions in your voice and your character’s answers in her’s, perhaps using different colored inks.  Ask your character what she wants from the story, she’ll tell you.
  2. Lizette Gifford recommends using character descriptions. Things such as name, species/race, gender, hair, eye & skin color, and an even more detailed list will help you later in the story (usually when editing). If you don’t like the super long lists, put the basic traits on a note card and pin it.
  3. James N. Frey discusses how to make well-rounded, believable characters that sizzle. He recommends creating a biography for your character and finding out what his “ruling passion” is. What drives him above everything else (for this story). In his second book Frey goes into detail on how to make worthy characters with “…the uniqueness of real people.”
  4. In “Ready, Set, Go!” you’re tasked with details, all the details you can think of about your character, as if you were an NYC detective and your character just got caught stealing your beloved grandmother’s prize-winning spaghetti sauce recipe. In other words, profile your character with pictures, motivations, juicy details of their bad habits and rumors involving him.
  5. If lists aren’t your thing, keep a separate document handy and put your character’s traits in the document as you discover them.  Perhaps you learn he craves cinnamon rolls but is highly allergic to  cinnamon which makes him a very crabby person in the morning; that would go on the document.

If none of this is helpful or your character just isn’t talking to you, throw her into an unexpected scene. Follow her around like a stalker – what’s in her medicine cabinet, her purse/backpack/briefcase or lunch box, what’s her ‘regular’ at the local coffee shop? Or best of all, go talk to her family. No one dishes dirt like a family member!


  1. The Writers Toolbox, Jamie Cat Callan, pg 37.
  2. NaNo for the New and the Insane, Lizette Gifford, pg 48.
  3. How to Write a Damn Good Novel I, James N Frey, pg 35.
  4. Ready Set Novel, Chris Baty et all., pg 21.
  5. Character Cafe, NaNoWriMo forums, Gadifere.

Spokane River Writers at Bark For Life in 2011

Need more help with your characters? Come visit us at the Spokane Bark for Life event this Saturday, October 13th from 11am – 3pm and get personal advice!  Not to mention supporting a great cause! 

About jaycegrae

A writer, learning.

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