Showing posts with label Character Development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Character Development. Show all posts

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  

Plot or Character?

Which is more important in fiction: a page-turning plot or deep and compelling characters?

I've always thought it depends on the genre, the audience, and personal taste. However, I've just started reading a book in which the author, Jeff Gerke, argues convincingly that both are equally important but most authors are naturally good at only one.

Moreover, many character-first writers underestimate the need to have a good plot and may even feel that they're selling out if they add too much Hollywood-esque excitement. Plot-first writers may use their characters mostly to advance their fantastic plots, not realizing that their characters come across more like props than actual people. To create truly great fiction, whether it's literary or commercial, a writer needs to master both character and plot. It's got me really thinking about what kind of writer I am: a character writer. So this year my new goal is to work on becoming a great plotter too.

I challenge each of your to analyze what you're best at and focus for a while on the other skill. In future posts, I'll pass on anything particularly useful I learn from this intriguing book: Plot Versus Character; A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke.

Melinda Brasher's most recent sale is a twist on Rumpelstiltskin, appearing in Timeless Tales. You can also find her fiction in Nous, Electric Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. For what readers have called "extraordinary character development," read Far-Knowing, her YA fantasy novel. Visit her online at

A Blank Canvas - Your Characters

The last couple of months have been spent packing and moving from our 'retirement home' in Phoenix to our new 'retirement home' in Minnesota. I'm well aware that's not usually the direction one goes to retire. My parents had left me a home and my husband and I decided that for the next however many years we have, we are going to spend them in the Midwest enjoying a slower pace. 

Moving into one's family home is a bit of a challenge. I remember well how my mother had arranged furniture and art. Each day more memories crop up and distract me. But each day, too, I'm working on creating a new and different home, one that reflects the people my husband and I are. Part of the decisions we've already made are to paint, carpet and change all the window coverings. Think blank canvas. 

A blank canvas allows you to find your own place in the world. 
A blank canvas encourages exploration. 
A blank canvas drives one to a new level of creativity. 

And a blank canvas might be the best place to begin when writing your newest character(s). Part of the enjoyment of writing fiction is the unknowingness of the process. You begin with a character or a scene, or maybe only a setting. Somewhere down the road you may know where you want to eventually end - the statement you wish to make with your story. But everything in between is yours and your characters to create. Allowing your mind to be open to your character's possible reactions and thoughts is one great way to keep your readers engaged. Readers like surprises - and if you are like me - you do as well. Creating characters that, well, act out of character is fun. And just like the blank canvas above, it will drive you to a greater level of creativity, it will push you to explore your options and finally, it will help you to create characters that will find their own place in the world of literature. 
D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean 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 also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. 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

You can also follower her at or on Facebook

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.

4 Important Character Concerns

Here are some things to consider in creating your main character. Note I don’t say “hero” or “heroine,” because sometimes the terms don’t apply at first.

Is your character an Insider or Outsider: are they already fully immersed in the world or is the reader becoming aware along with the character? Sometimes the best way to introduce a reader to the world of the weird is to introduce the protagonist to it, so that he or she begins at the same level of knowledge, basically, as the reader.
    In Odessa, Book One of the Seraphym Wars Series, or Harpies, Book Two, Myrna and Griffen are from Earth but find themselves suddenly and inexplicitly waking on a foreign planet fill with demon-dragons who run the place. Not only that, but the world is Steampunk instead of the contemporary Earth they know. People dress strangely and vehicles hover or sail through the sky while the world itself is primal and filled with monsters. These ambiguities create a lot of tension for the characters, but for the reader as well. The reader is taking the same journey as the characters in learning about their new world.

Alternately, it can be intriguing simply to launch your reader into the fictional world right from the beginning. In my Middle Grade story Masquerade’s Moon Madness, Masquerade is an adorable black cat who used to be a little girl but now lives with a young witch named Wendy. The reader accompanies Masquerade on her adventures throughout time and space as she and Wendy travel and learn. But it’s up to the reader to simply accept certain facts; like a little orphan girl becoming a cat after sipping the witch’s stew.

Can you character take abuse? As any writer is aware, every good character has flaws. The only character I can think of who might not is Jesus or a computer (and even then something could be devised). After all, if your character is too wimpy to withstand the conflict your story must cast their way, they really aren’t much of a character are they? So why should a reader continue reading about them? What will hold the reader’s attention? The other reason a character must be flawed is to seem realistic. How else will a reader empathize with the character’s plight?

But as important as a flaw or two may be, it is more important that the character have the guts and wherewithal to deal with the issues at hand. Just remember to ease the character into being able to solve their problems. If they seem super-human from the get-go, how will they grow and evolve through the story? Again, why should a reader continue reading about the character if they’re strong and capable from the beginning? This brings up the next point…

Hidden strengths: In a novel, characters’ actions tends to larger than life, so characters must be pushed beyond what you or I consider normal endurance. The result is they’ll either break or find hidden strengths that allow them to survive and solve their problems. Breaking is obviously the less heroic choice. How the character solves the conflict determines their hidden strengths and brings them to the surface.

How does your character best speak? POV: Narration, whether it comes from the main character, a secondary character or outside viewer, has changed significantly over the past hundred years. If you read anything written in the early 1900’s you will easily discern the author’s opinion throughout the story, even fiction, because it was common for the omniscient narrator to share their own ideas. But today’s readers don’t have the time for all of the extraneous narration and want to make up their own minds about how they feel about the characters and story.

Hence, the omniscient narrator has become passe and the popular POV is first person for younger books, although third person is still widely used everywhere.

First person, or the “I” perspective, is quite popular right now, especially in young fiction. It can feel intimate, which is what teens seem to like about it; but it can also be limiting, since it’s best (though not exclusively) used in single point of view. Word of caution: don’t allow your character to speak directly to the reader (another ancient form of narration). A reader wants to disappear into a book and live vicariously alongside the characters. Also, one person can’t ever truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, so a writer must give the reader cues through dialogue, expression and body language.

Third person is the most commonly used POV. This is the “he” or “she” perspective. The reader remains in a particular character’s head until a new character takes over after a section break or new chapter. There are caveats here too. If you choose to write from more than one perspective, it’s important for each voice to sound truly distinctive so that the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking/thinking. It is strongly advisable for the writer to limit the number of POVs so a reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of the main character’s conflict/resolution.

Generally, for younger readers one POV is used, sometimes a second POV can be inserted sparingly and obviously made different; Young Adult might have as many as three. Authors today are trying various techniques in search of the almighty best-seller. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they flop. I read a book, or started reading it, which changed perspective with each chapter. With four or five character POVs constantly changing like that I quickly got lost and lost interest in the book. So mind how many POVs you use and keep them obviously different enough readers don’t get lost.

Harpies, Book Two Seraphym Wars Series for YA Readers
Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.

Rebecca Ryals Russell is author of Seraphym Wars Series for YA readers and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. She also has several MG chapter books in the works as well as a YA Dystopian. See more about her and her WIPs at Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell or Tween Word Quest.

The Secret

What do you do when a big secret just happens to come to light and you aren't even thinking of your story? How do you keep that secret from exploding to a full-on reveal?

This happened to me just recently in my wip - Imogene: Innocense Lost. I discovered a secret, not about Imogene who the story is supposed to be about, but about her mother who is on the quest to save Imogene. The secret has blown up in my head and I'm very anxious to get it written but I can't. Once the secret comes out, the dynamic of the story changes drastically. It will no longer be about saving Imogene but saving Sarah Beth and the story is about finding Imogene first and foremost.

The biggest problem is that not even Sarah Beth knows the secret yet and I'm afraid once I put the secret on paper (or on the computer in the story somewhere - writing scenes as they come to me this go round since this is not like anything else I've ever written) that the story takes on a completely different meaning. I need to get Imogene's story written before entangling her mother's story and therefore, the secret will have to just keep niggling me until it's finally right to write it. The secret actually reveals a good bit about Sarah Beth that I didn't know before (my characters were still a bit two dimensional as the story really hasn't taken hold in my head and gotten to the point that I can just write from beginning to end). Maybe if I do a character chart for Sarah Beth, the secret can be put there for now and when it's time to work it in, it will be fine.

I just don't know what to do with this secret and this style of story now since I'm exploring new waters for me. If you've had a secret just pop up in your writing and have kept it a secret until just the right moment, please drop me a line and let me know how you handled it. See you all in the postings - E ;)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook
E's blog
E's website

Emotions Bring Depth to Your Character's and Hook Your Reader's Heart

by Kathy Stemke

One way to make your story have universal appeal is to add the tension of opposing emotions inside your character. We all feel mixed emotions every day. When a character has two or three choices and none of them seem very good, it adds tension. It makes the reader want to turn the page.

Emotions in your characters will help your story reach out and hook more readers. You want your readers emotionally involved with the characters in the story. If they are emotionally involved, they’ll want to find out what happens to them.

Characters need strengths and weaknesses. For example, righteous anger can be a strength, while contempt could be a weakness. Whether characters are likable or unlikable, they need good traits or strengths and bad traits or weaknesses. No living person is one dimensional, so neither should fictitious ones be.

Flaws and passions should be revealed in layers. Show, don’t tell.  A writer can write a paragraph or more explaining the personality traits, feelings, strengths, and/or weaknesses of a character, boring a reader to tears; or the author can reveal layer by layer of the character through the plot, dialogue and storyline - showing the reader the character and his or her emotions rather than telling about the character.

These are the main emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise. Add action, setting, and description of your character’s face and body to make these emotions real.

Here is an example of sad emotion that works is Jo Kittinger’s picture book, “Dirty-Third Street.”

“You might be right,” said Mom. She sank to the floor in the corner. “What was I thinking?”

I slumped down beside her and leaned my head against her shoulder.

Here’s an excerpt from my WIP, “Winnie’s War” which shows anger.

“I loathe this war! It’s destroyin’ our family.” Winnie flung her arms up and marched toward the door. “If me Dad were alive, he’d never send them away.”

Here’s an example of sad emotion from “Winnie’s War.”

“Let us know where you end up, Davy.” Winnie waved and sobbed through her fake smile as the train sped around the corner and out of sight. Please bring them back safely.

There are many other emotions that your characters can show like amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride in achievement, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, and shame.  The more emotions you can add to your character’s story the stronger the hook you will have in your reader’s heart.

As a freelance writer and ghostwriter, Kathy Stemke has published over one hundred of articles in directories, magazines and on websites. She is a reviewer for Sylvan Dell Publishing and a former editor for The National Writing for Children Center. As a retired teacher, Kathy has several activities published with Gryphon House Publishing.
Award winning author, Kathy Stemke’s first children’s picture book, Moving Through All Seven Days, was published on Lulu. Her next two picture books were, Sh, Sh, Sh Let the Baby Sleep, and Trouble on Earth Day. Both of these books have been awarded the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.  Visit her book blog at

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

Get to Know Your Character

By Dallas Woodburn

Once upon a time, Peter Pan was just a faceless name. Before The Lord of the Rings, Frodo was merely an image inside Tolkien’s mind. When I was in elementary school, nobody had heard of Harry Potter.

Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? As readers, we often get so attached to our favorite characters that it can be difficult to remember they aren’t real beings but rather figments of an author’s wonderful imagination brought to life on the page. Indeed, I believe one of the most important aspects – if not the most important aspect – of a good story is its characters. The characters are the ones who bring the reader inside the story – and keep her turning the pages to the final sentence. Characters are the ones who make the reader feel like he has a stake in what happens.

How can you create interesting, memorable characters who feel like real people? Get to know them yourself! YA author Joan Bauer once told me she writes 30-page biographies of all her main characters before she even starts writing the book. Now, I’m not saying you need to write a 30-page biography, but you can at least spend a few minutes interviewing your character and getting to know him or her better.

Below are some possible questions to answer in the “voice” of your character. These are just to give you ideas – feel free to jump off into answering your own questions! See where the “voice” of your character takes you!

My name is …
I am ___ years old. My birthday is ____.
I live in …
I like to …
My favorite color is …
My favorite food is …
My favorite type of music is …
My favorite movie is …
My favorite animal is …
My best friend is …
My secret hideout is …
I dream about …
I am obsessed with…
My greatest fear is …
My greatest wish is …
If I had a super power, it would be …
I love …
Something that makes me really angry is …
I worry about …
One day, I hope …

As you get to know your character better, you might find a story developing. Some ideas to get you started:

My happiest memory is …
My saddest memory is …
My most embarrassing moment is…
My favorite holiday has always been…
Last summer, I …
I was terrified when …
My life changed forever when …
The last time I cried was …
One time, I lied about …
I couldn’t believe my eyes when …
I never, ever thought I would …
I knew I was in trouble when …

Do you have any other questions you ask your characters? Share them with other writers! Email them to me at and they might be posted on my blog,

Bio: Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today’s best youth writing. She has written more than 80 articles and essays for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, The Los Angeles Times, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she also teaches undergraduate writing courses.



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Personality Tests for Character Development?

Character development has always been difficult.  If readers cannot fall in love with, feel empathy for, identify with or, on the other hand, hate, be repulsed by, or fear your characters there is little investment for finishing your work. Who couldn’t identify with Harry, Ron and Hermione? I the strength of their personalities that attract readers young and old, male and female, from all socioeconomic groups and all ethnicities. 

One of the best tools for creating interesting, believable and multi dimensional characters is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Taking the time to learn how to effectively use this tool can be invaluable. 

Do you want your character to have an “out there” personality or one that is more introspective and reserved?  Do you want him to be an idea man or the realistic, this is the way it is kind of guy?  Is your heroine the strong, no nonsense, take charge type like J. D. Robb’s character Eve Dallas or more stereotypical female?  Do you want a character that is goal oriented, time sensitive and orderly or more fly by the seat of the pants, flexible and spontaneous? 

When you have an understanding of personality type and how it influences everything from how a person socializes to how she makes decisions, the possibilities for creating believable, intriguing characters that readers want to get to know are endless.

So check out, or, contact a local mental health professional, or go to the library. 
First learn about yourself, then apply that knowledge to your characters.   

Good Luck!

By: Dr. Anita Tieman

Dr. Tieman worked with Martha Swirzinski to write 3 children's books. 


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