Sunday, October 16, 2011

Creating Characters

As writers, we know story is important. Readers want to know what happens next. But while story is important, it alone, will not sustain a reader to the end. To keep the reader going, a book requires characters, colorful characters that surprise, intrigue and keep your readers guessing what they will do next. 

E.L. Doctorow said, "Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." Yes, I hear voices. Usually they are tiny ones that speak with accents or have unusual phrasing. Sometimes they come up with thoughts that are brilliant. Sometimes they make me laugh. No matter, these voices cause me to sit in my hammock and listen more closely to the story they tell. 

I often start my novels with the "bookends." I hear an engaging character's words and listen long enough to figure out how their story ends. Then, (picture me rubbing my hands together evilly), I get to write the in between. This is the space in my novels where the character is tested, molded and finally formed into a different human being. Historians record, while novelists create. For me as a writer, this is what takes my breath away, what makes the experience of being a writer a joy.

With characters being so important to the craft, we must take the time necessary to create them.  Knowing all the details of your character is critical. It is more than just eye and hair color, or what they eat and drink.
Developing a fully formed character means you are able to describe everything about them, including their hand gestures and how they pose. What do they do with their legs while seated? How do they stand? What angles do they create? When building fully formed characters, start at the feet. Describe their toes, and ankles, as well as their choice in shoes. Move from the feet to the legs. Are they defined? How so? What about your character's torso? Do they have "love-handles"? Are they trim and fit? Or somewhere in between? Shoulders, arms and hands are all important. Only after you have a clear image of your character's body is it time to focus on the face. The more you know about your character, the easier it is for your readers to see them.

Dressing your character is also important. Clothes make a statement. Then there are your character's props. What items do they keep handy and what do they use them for? I often use things for unintended purposes. I'm sure this must say something about me. If your character uses a letter-opener for a hole-punch I'm sure it says something about them too. 

What does your character dream about? Dreams often establish our vulnerabilities. Fully formed characters must have flaws if only because flawed characters are more interesting. They seem to be more like ourselves and our readers.

In developing your character, also think about where and what they hide. (Again, see me with my hands rubbing together.) I just love a good secret.

Exercise: Create a character. Describe his or her hiding place. A closet. Their desk. The kitchen drawer. The cupboards in their laundry room. Their garage. What did you find there that most surprised you? Why is it hidden? I'd love to know what you found!

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction. She loves to tell stories of personal growth where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is the author of Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception, her latest book dealing with the subject of death and the afterlife. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.
She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at
Her novels are available in electronic format here, or print format here
You can also follower her at or on Facebook
Or you can just contact her at


Jojo said...

I love the bookend concept as a place to start with character development.

Julie Tucker-Wolek said...

I love Jean! She is AMAZING!

austine said...

My character is a women in her 30's who has a complicated relationship with her real father, she is going to say her good-bye's because he's dying and she's looking for closure. Her secrets are hidden in a special card box given to her when she was a young girl. The secret hidden in there is a letter from a lady who knew her mother and holds the secrets surrounding her mother’s death.

D. Jean Quarles said...

Wow! Love all your comments! Thanks for stopping by!

BeadedTail said...

What a great way to create your characters! This just made me want to start writing the novel I've always dreamed of writing!

D. Jean Quarles said...

Oh, you should! Thanks for stopping by.

Karen Cioffi said...

Great information on developing characters! And, it's so true that it's all the details that help a reader establish a relationship with the characters.

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