Monday, November 28, 2022

Tips on Creating Composite Characters

Ashley, the main character in Tall Boots, is
based on a neighbor of ours who wanted nothing
more than to wear tall, black shiny riding boots

By Linda Wilson   @LinWilsonauthor

Beware the “wooden” character. I created one of those once. My character was the villain in my story. Stiff as cardboard, poor soul. He appeared on the scene angry. He stayed angry during the entire story. You can imagine how boring his personality was. There was no compelling reason to include him in the story except that he was the bad guy. What was worse, he had no redeeming qualities. During the editing process, I searched around for a story to tell about his life, and to discover something nice about him. That helped.

In his article, “Creating Composite Characters,” R.J. Lee wrote, “Character creation is one of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction. One way to create characters with real characteristics and with whom your readers can relate is to create composite characters.”

Tom Sawyer is a composite character. Samuel Clemens said at the time The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876, that the character was based on three boys he knew. And experiences in his own life.

Learning about composite characters can help shape your characters. It is also fun. I’m preaching to the choir here, but it’s amazing how many traits you can pick up by studying people. Always with Your trusty notebook in hand, jot down interesting traits, sayings, even jokes you hear in other people’s company. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • fingernails
  • hair color and style
  • jewelry
  • clothing
  • mannerisms
  • accent
  • shoes
  • how they smile, frown and laugh
  • any scars, tattoos, and the like

Dig Under the Surface

Observe emotions. What makes the person tick? What are their facial expressions when they’re telling a story? Do they appear happy? Sad? Nervous? Do they say one thing but it’s obvious they mean another?

Since our characters often reveal traits of our own, we authors can mine our own life and the lives of people we know. As children’s authors, we look back to our childhoods. What were our physical characteristics, good habits, bad habits, emotional state? Who were our best friends? Status at school? What was our home life like?

Make Lists and/or Charts

Pictures cut out of magazines and posted on your bulletin board can help breathe life into your characters. Post all the pictures of your characters together. Characters’ traits can be listed in “Positive” and “Negative” columns. Soon, their traits narrow down to people as close to reality as possible. Visit the pictures and traits until you’ve gotten to know your characters and have become fond of them.

Once writing begins, these traits need to become pliable. Your character will need to depend on what kind of person s/he is as revealed by struggles the character faces in the story. 

Recently while working on my WIP, work-in-progress, the second book in my Abi Wunder series, Secrets in the Mist, the main character Abi visits her new friend Jess one last time at the end of summer before school starts. The two friends have only a night when the moon is full and the temperature is just right to see if the ghost will rise out of the marsh in Jess’s neighborhood. 

Abi wants to be brave, believes she is brave, until she comes up against the luminescent presence of the ghost they’ve been seeking. The sheer brilliance of the ghost’s glow strikes fear in Abi’s heart, and suddenly her bravery melts away into the black of night.

Making your vision of your characters and their traits concrete by putting them down on paper—their pictures and their personalities—will go a long way toward helping you develop your story. Before you know it, your characters will take on lives of their own. Perhaps, as many authors say, your characters will write your story themselves!

The series by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, which includes The Emotion Thesaurus, The Conflict Thesaurus, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, is a terrific help in shaping characters in our stories.


Creating Composite Characters from 

Cowgirl in New Jersey
Linda, about 5-years-old
What a character!

 Linda Wilson writes stories for young children. Visit Linda     at Click the links for free coloring pages and   a puppet show starring Thistletoe Q. Packrat. While you’re there, get   all the latest news by signing up for Linda’s newsletter. 

 Find Linda’s books at  Amazon Author Page.

 Connect with Linda: FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram  


Suzanne Lieurance said...

Love this tip for creating characters.

Thanks, Linda

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks for writing, Suzanne. It's good to hear from you.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great tips on writing characters. I often use my grandsons when creating characters. I didn't know that about Samuel Clemens and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Interesting!

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks, Karen. That Samuel Clemens was a clever man!!!

Every Writer Needs Connections

  By W. Terry Whalin   @terrywhalin Wherever you are in the writing world: brand new or experienced every writer needs publishing connection...