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

Using Psychology to Write Characters

By Mindy Lawrence

One of the first writers I fell in love with was Edgar Allan Poe. His gothic horror latched on to my mind. I was powerless to save anyone from going over the precipice. He not only got into the heads of his characters but also into the heads of his readers.

Using psychological information to reach out and grab your audience can create unforgettable characters that burrow into the psyche. Questions you can answer to create memorable protagonists and antagonists include:

What are my characters afraid of?

Is your character afraid of water and has to take a trip at sea? Is your protagonist raised by a family that strongly believes in hell and tortures them with the fear of going there? Fears like these can drive characters to do what they might not have done without their unconscious psychological upbringing. Decide what triggers those in your novel to fear.

What do my characters hate and why?

Did your protagonist or antagonist grow up in a household that hated cats? How about people or another religion or background? Making your characters try to overcome their faults (or carry through with them) can drive your story.

What are my characters’ oddities and what caused them?

When I think about oddities in characters, I think about Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. In the first few pages, we get a snapshot of Ignatius that we picture in our heads throughout the entire book. He hates so many things. He writes his worldview in Big Chief notebooks. He’s obviously unsound of mind but winds up solving a crime by accident.

What backstory affected my characters?

What does the character(s) go through before the story begins that causes them to react as they do? Were they raised in a cult? In poverty? In a well-to-do family? All this affects the way the character thinks and acts.

Is there any salvation for my character(s) or is the story destined to follow the path it takes?

Like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, does his hate doom him from the beginning? Or like in Lord Jim does the main character find his own salvation and come to terms with his actions?

Characters that remain in our heads come from good development. Consider building your story using psychology to grab your reader, maybe forever.

Take some time to dig into the minds of your creations.

LINKS (For those not hyper, just copy and paste into your browser.)

Character Development Fears

Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature

What Really Drives your Characters?

The Psychology of Character

How to Diagnose your Character

How to Craft Characters Scene by Scene


Mindy Lawrence is a writer and artist based in Farmington, Missouri. She worked for the State of Missouri for over twenty-four years and has retired to her sumptuous home office where she’s writing, doing calligraphy, and making a mess. She has been published in Writers Digest magazine and interviewed by All Things Considered.



Tips for Character Driven Description



Tips for Character Driven Description: Fiction and Non-fiction

Our stories or narratives include characters, and are stronger by using descriptive details that drive and support the topic.

When we first meet a person, we get a sense of who they are and perhaps their occupation. That happens through details we notice; how they dress, how they talk, the way they move or how they treat others. My hubby and I walk each morning. Several other neighbors walk daily about the same time. I can often recognize a neighbor before I can see them clearly, because I recognize the way they walk. I bet you have this experience too.

Our readers need to meet our characters in the same way. It’s up to us to shape characters in our stories by describing the details of how our character talks, moves and dresses. Does she speak with an accent? Does he limp as he walks? Is she a casual runner or one training for an event? Does she wear a big floppy hat as she bikes with her fluffy puppy in her flowered basket? Our characters further develop the scenes we paint for our readers.

Choose details that distinguish your character. What makes that character catch your attention? What gives the reader more information about that character? Does he have body language that expresses shyness, self-importance or condescension?  What is she wearing, a business suit or sweats? You get the idea.

Now pull from the sense words we’ve talked about for: sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture enhanced descriptions.

If the character you are describing has a minor role in the story, the details would be brief. The waitress serving a cup of hot chocolate might be a sweet young college student with bouncy blonde hair. And, that’s all you mention initially because, you’ll weave in more description as the story or narrative builds.

We give more clues to the reader through:
1)    Describing the environment around a character’s occupation and living situation,
2)    Noting the way people react to him or her,
3)    Plus, everyone has an inner layer of history; the details we readily see are clues to a person’s life. Consider which outward signs history might create, and describe those clues as you build aspects of your character’s life.

Book suggestions for writers:
Keys To Great Writing, Revised and Expanded, by Stephen Wilbers
Word Painting, by Rebecca McClanahan

Earlier Post links in this series—Descriptive Writing for Fiction and Non-Fiction:
Write it with Senses and POV Tips:
Tips for Figurative Speech: 
Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at:   
Visit her caregiver’s website: 
Available on Amazon --- Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God’s Love
Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer 




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Begin Stories with your Character: A Workshop with Lois Ruby

Who will your character be?
Are your stories plot-driven, or do you begin with a character? Lois Ruby’s stories don’t take off until she has gotten to know her main character. At a recent Albuquerque Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, meeting, Lois shared her technique.

And what terrific characters Lois creates! One look at her books, and you will read a “heart-pounding romance about a contemporary girl, Lori, who falls crazy-in-love with Nathaniel, a soldier in the Battle of Gettysburg.” The only hitch is that she’s very much alive, and he’s a ghost. (Rebel Spirits, Scholastic/Point, 2013); an Austrian brother and sister who survive World War II in Shanghai, China (Shanghai Shadows, Holiday House, 2006; a Bank Street Book of the Year, 2007, and a Kansas Notable Book, 2007; a homeless girl who can communicate with a police horse in New York, and many more vivid characters. (Visit to learn more about Lois and her books).

How does Lois create such intriguing characters?

Begin with What’s Going on Inside
Lois likes to know her character’s description, but before she gets to that, she pins down:
  • When they lived—where they fit into the context of history.
  • What is their backstory—doesn’t show up in story, but we need to know it.
  • What is their emotional status. For example:
    • Saying one thing and doing something else.
    • Laughing when not appropriate.
    • Quick to anger—how character expresses anger.
    • Tension when internal thoughts contrast with verbal response.
  • How the name fits the character. For example:
    • Molds the personality
    • Ethnicity
    • Geographical area they came from
    • Nicknames
    • Station in life
What’s on the Outside Comes Next
Lois arrived with armfuls of portraits (photos) of people she finds intriguing, cut out of magazines and kept in clear plastic sleeves. Each portrait raises questions. Each answer opens a window to develop and round out the character.
  •  Girl or boy
  •  Where does h/she live?
  •  Contemporary or historical?
  •  What is the family like?
  •  What does her voice sound like?
  •  What is the conflict in his life?
  •  Adventurer or not?
  •  Any annoying habits?
  •  Who is his greatest hero?
  •   Powerful or powerless?
  •  What are the moral limits? Skin Deep, Scholastic, 1994, currently out-of-print, is about a boy who is drawn to a hateful white supremacist group. His personality changed, and his girlfriend Laurel sees this and wonders if he can ever return to the boy she loved. Lois said she interviewed three skinheads to answer this question and was horrified, but she needed to know.
Our Turn
Lois ended the workshop by displaying random words on the projector screen:
High school yearbook
Dr. Dowd
ID bracelet
Baseball uniform
Barn animals

Participants were given a short time period to create a character-driven story using as many words as possible. It was fun to hear the different takes. My story evolved around a young man in his 30s flying to see his dad in the hospital after he had a heart attack, working on his job application, taking his dad’s ID bracelet to him (will he remember it?), etc.

Raised in California, Lois has called Texas and Kansas home, and now, lucky for us, she lives in Albuquerque. Her portrait-study technique has certainly yielded a solid collection of intriguing and diverse characters in her books.

A parting word about Lois’s only nonfiction book (so far), Strike! Mother Jones and the Colorado Coal Fields War, Filter Press, 2012. Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, was so concerned about the poor working conditions of a wide range of people from the 1870s through the 1920s—including, street car operators in New York and San Francisco, female bottle washers in Wisconsin, copper miners in Arizona, and the deplorable conditions of children working fourteen-hour days in the textile mills of Pennsylvania—that she called meetings and made speeches, urging workers to go on strike and fight for their rights. Authorities and industry leaders labeled her a troublesome agitator, and the story goes on. (Book is available on Amazon prime at a very reasonable price). Even in nonfiction, Lois has done it again: delighted readers with her knack for creating fascinating characters, and in the case of her nonfiction book, uncovering the story of this incredible woman.
Clipart courtesy of:

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. Her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, is hot off the press and will be available soon. Currently, she is hard at work on The Ghost of Janey Brown, Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at

Finding names for your characters

Find your character a name: click here  
If you're like me, you sometimes have a hard time coming up with names for your characters.  This can be especially difficult in fantasy and science fiction.  One solution:  online name generators.

In February, I posted about a cool  "what-if" generator.  Sites like this are good for laughs and for sparks that you can turn into stories, but they're a little on the novelty side.  Name generators, on the other hand, can be very useful in a day-to-day way if you don't intend your character names to be deeply symbolic and if you don't want to waste time, energy, and creativity coming up with names, especially for secondary characters.  

Many generators have various versions or settings, so you can search for names for anything from Japanese women or French men to colonial Americans, rappers, and English kings.  If your writing's a little more on the speculative side, you can search for elves, super villains, robots, heroic orcs, and a whole lot of other character types.  Some sites also have place name generators where you can discover the perfect name for your a small town, lake, hospital, planet, or mystic temple.

Generators should not replace your own creativity, but especially for minor characters and places only mentioned in passing, or if you're really stuck, they can be a life saver.

My favorites:
Fantasy Name Generator (also includes a lot of not-fantasy names)
Rinkworks (mostly aimed at fantasy, with cool settings like "very long names," "vowel-heavy names," and "mushy names")
Seventh Sanctum (One option based on names from US census data, many fantasy options including things like "dark elf" and  "pirate ship")

You'll discover many others online.

So, whether you need a name like Deidre Gordon,  Ronaldo JimĂ©nez, Alouko, or Swiftdemon the Striker, there's a name generator out there for you.

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

An Introduction

Introducing Your Characters

The goal of every writer is to create a character that will be loved. Now this doesn't mean your character needs to be perfect - in fact, imperfection is sometimes the thing that makes your character most loved. But something needs to draw your reader in and keep them close.

For many novelists a starting point will be to create a character sheet. This will list important things like name, age, weight, height, hair and eye color, background, etc. Once you, as the author, have an idea of who your character is it is now time to introduce them to your audience. If your character has some physical challenge - a limp, a missing limb, is wheelchair bound - it will be important to inform the reader quickly, but if that's not the case, perhaps the best way to introduce your character will be to never mention any of the things on your list. 

Readers want to be engaged and to figure some things out for themselves. They really want to get to know your character in action first and see how they relate to the situation and world around them. They want to enter a character's head and understand what they are thinking - all of which forms an impression. Tease them. Allow them to envision the character on their own. Create curiosity, or mystique in the opening scene. Show your character's sensual appeal.  And even if it is your antagonist you are introducing, give your reader some hope of goodness. All of which can be done without ever using that character sheet.

What? Why even do the character sheet then, you may ask. Because you need to know your character intimately, but when introducing them to your reader work on showing and not telling. That way your reader can feel empowered by their ability to really get to know and be engaged with your key figures. Yes, it is sometimes challenging and it would be so much easier to just insert a word or two to describe, but refrain and see how it takes your writing to another level.

So now challenge yourself: write that introductory scene!


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

Character Relationships

Although my publications are all non-fiction, I have written six novels, five of them for NaNoWriMo. I've never got around to publishing them, and with the exception of the first one, I haven't even edited them.

Although I do a lot of background preparation, and have a plan where the story is going, once I write, I let my characters take the story and run with it. I love the way they become real and often change my ideas of what was to happen next.

However, before starting to write, I work through a series of character exercises so that I know them pretty well. I adapted these from one I learned years ago from a writer called Phil. I think his surname was Rockwell but I can't find him on Google.
  1. Draw up a graph (I use Excel) with all your character names down the side, one per row.
  2. Repeat all the characters in the same order, across the top, as column headings. 
  3. Fill in every space with just a very few words, summing up the person on the left's attitude towards the one in the column.
Here is an example using four of my characters from my first novel.
  • Marcia Douglas, the protagonist, is a minister's wife.   
  • Owen is her husband.
  • Mrs C (Cartwright) is the old lady who lives across the road.
  • Holly is the Douglas's teenage daughter.
You can learn more about them by reading the chart.

Notice that you also fill in the characters' feelings about themselves. I initially battled with this, but then realised how important it was. It helps you figure out how the person actually sees themselves in light of the story.

So you see that Marcia is unsure of herself, fears her husband's rejection, resents Mrs C across the road for her interfering, and is exasperated and worried by her out-of-control teenage daughter.

After doing this, I draw up a Word page for each character, with three main columns. I put the name of the character all the way down the left side of the page, and the names of all the other characters down the right. I then repeat the list but with the characters on opposite sides of the page. The centre column is an expansion of what I had in the first exercise.

So here is what it looks like, using four of my characters from the same novel. (I've added a new character to the mix and dropped Holly.)

Got the idea?

Once I have done all this, I write a short history for each character, so that I have a better idea of why they are like they are. As I write, I often find they reveal bits of their lives that I didn't know about. (After all, I'm only the author.)

Give it a try - and have fun!

OVER TO YOU: Having read about some of the characters of this novel, working title, Hidden Agenda, do you think this would be a story worth reading? Which character introduced so far most grabs your attention?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives a short walk from the seaside in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, with her husband Rob. She is author of Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer. Shirley is also contributing author to ten other books and has published hundreds of devotions and articles internationally. 

Visit Shirley on her website to inspire and encourage writers, or on Rise and Soar, her website for encouraging those on the cancer journey. Follow her on Twitter or "like" her Author's page on Facebook. 

Authors Need to be Realistic

By Terry Whalin  @terrywhalin Over the years, I’ve met many passionate writers. One brand new writer told me, “My book is going to be a best...