Where do Characters Come From?

Where do you get your characters? They can come from many sources. Characters can be based on someone you know or a composite of people you know. You write from your experience. You might base a character on a name you’ve picked out or someone you’ve read about in the newspaper. Or you decide on a theme or a situation you want to write about and then decide what kind of characters would fit into that idea.

How do you introduce your characters?

Here’s a great four-sentence exercise:
1.      Introduce a character (age, sex).
2.      Bring character home to dwelling place
3.      Greet someone in the home, tell something about the mood of the character.
4.      Move character out of room (off camera).

You’ll be surprised how much you will learn about your character from such a short exercise! Start out each character like this to find out about him/her. Fill in the information and find the emotional connection.

Some writers like to create an entire character profile even before they start writing. I don’t necessarily recommend that, although some people need a skeleton to flesh out before they can start writing. It’s probably a good idea to at least fill one out as you write (especially if you’re writing a book) just to keep the facts straight. You don’t want your hero to have blue eyes in chapter one and turn up with brown eyes in chapter 20. And you want him to act and re-act consistent with his personality as you write. Or fill in a character sketch if you have a character that seems flat and needs fleshing out.
How do you come up with your characters?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches
writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released, and her non-fiction book Cowgirl Up: History of Women's Rodeo will be out in September. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


Karen Cioffi said...

Heidi, useful tips on how to introduce your characters. I usually have the very basics in place for the characters then watch then develop as I write the story. But, as you mentioned, you need to keep track of the characteristics as they come into play. Keeping the details in a Word doc file or notebook or index cards is a good way to do this.

Linda Wilson said...

Heidi, your ideas sound like a great way to stay consistent. I will save this post and refer to it as I work, thank you. I believe it's true that our main characters are always part of us so that's where I start after I think up the story idea. I think about some of my own traits (which I'm keeping track of on paper/computer) and branch out from there. I find myself wanting to add characteristics that would make me a better person (maybe to better myself?) so I pick characteristics that I admire in others and apply them to my characters. Same goes for others' faults/sticky points/traits, good and bad.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks for a useful exercise Heidi. I draw up a chart of each person and their interactions. Perhaps I'll share it sometime, so I won't say any more now. :-)

Debbie A Byrne said...

I think it's important to keep track of everything. Fill out profiles, a story bible, things like that.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Just where I'm at too. Jotting down everything from Book 1 that I may need later in the series. Thanks Heidi. Love the short exercise and shall most certainly use it.

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