Sunday, 17 June 2012

Creating the perfect character

Creating the perfect character seems impossible doesn’t it? After all, nobody’s perfect. But you aren’t looking for the perfect person - you’re looking to invent someone that fulfils their purpose (achieve the end goal of the novel.) If they can do that, then they are already half way to perfect.

Hang on, half way?

Yep! The other half of the journey to creating the perfect character is making them memorable - or at least
relatable and likable. You hate me right now, don’t you? That’s understandable. The one thing we hate to be lectured about is memorable characters. Why? Simply because it’s hard to get a character close to spot on. Not everyone is going to like them. The aim is to get most to like your characters.

The key to both halves of this journey is fleshing out your characters, all of them. You can’t forget about the little guys; they’re important too, otherwise what’s the point of including them? To flesh them out you need to not only give them traits, but make them human.

Humans have likes and dislikes, body hang ups and weird eating habits (Doctor Who fans will remember the fish fingers and custard incident!) Sometimes we say ‘like’ too much or ‘awesome.’ We have hopes and dreams, and fears. Sometimes those fears are common, like fear of spiders (arachnophobia), and sometimes they’re strange. Have you ever met anyone with Geniophobia (fear of chins), or perhaps Arachibutyrophobia (fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth)? It seems impossible that anyone could be scared of those things, but it happens, and it could make for an excellent obstacle in your characters journey. Plus, readers will remember a character with a weird fear, unusual eating habit and obsession with something seemingly austere.

Decisions your characters make, or how they react to a plot point is determined by their history and their traits. If your character is a coward, they won’t jump in to save a woman during an armed robbery. If they were shot in the past, they won’t take a bullet for someone. Then again, if they have history with that person and feel strongly about them, they might jump in front of the gun without hesitation. Do you see how all of these factors determine the progression?

Getting the perfect character is key to your novel. For that reason, I have a quick exercise for you that should help to flesh out those characters.

Below are 15 simple questions. Copy them onto a word document (or write them down) and answer them with you in mind. Be brutally honest, no one else has to see your answers. If you think your head is a weird shape, put that. If you think you’re cowardly (despite what you tell yourself) then write it down. I certainly am not requesting your answers, although if you could tell me if it works for you, that would be great!

Give it a whirl. After you’ve answered look at those answers. Those are what make a perfect character: flaws, quirks and history. Using your results, try it with a friend or family member in mind. Or you could just go straight to your characters if you want.

1. Best trait(s): 
2. Worst trait(s): 
3. Biggest dream(s): 
4. Worst fear(s): 
5. Biggest love: 
6. Unusual food habit(s): 
7. Most overused word: 
8. Worst body part: 
9. Best body part: 
10. Social butterfly or loner: 
11. Motivated or lazy: 
12. Optimistic or pessimistic: 
13. Brave or cowardly: 
14. Trusting or sceptical: 
15. Relationship history (family, friends, partners):



  1. Zoe, first of all - I adore your blog, it's so pretty! Secondly, this is such an awesome post - you've nailed the subject perfectly, and I will now be using that list for creating characters :)


    1. Thanks for the feedback, Timony! :-)

  2. I agree with you--flaws, quirks, and history are all very important.

    For me, however, getting to know my characters is one of the most organic parts of the writing process. I can be scientific and systematic about plot and prose and other things... But so far I haven't done that when learning who my characters are and why they're like that. Maybe that's why it seems so difficult at times, but it seems to be the way I work as a writer. :)

    1. I agree with you - getting to know characters is an organic part of writing. Some people tend to struggle, which is when things like the questions come in.

      I know a writer who has 5 pages of details to fill out about each character (including what they smell like!) I can't go that far but sometimes it helps to get a base.

  3. This excellent blog post is very helpful indeed! :-)


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