Showing posts with label Creating Characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Creating Characters. Show all posts

Character Sheets - Building a Character

 Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Ghostwriter

Connecting with a reader entails a couple of things, one of which is to have a fully developed protagonist.

A crucial aspect of creating a real character is his interactions with the other characters in the story, and his reactions to external influences.

These reactions to external surroundings or occurrences add layers to your protagonist.

To be able to write with this type of clarity and dimension for your protagonist, you need to know every detail of your protagonist's character.

Even if you learn tidbits here and there as the story progresses, those new bits and pieces of the characters traits will need to be remembered and possibly used again. An excellent way to keep track of your protagonist’s characteristics is to create a character sheet.

Using Character Sheets

In addition to the basic information, like physical characteristics, abilities, faults, family, and likes and dislikes, you need actions and reactions.

Make note on your character sheet of every reaction and interaction your character has with another character. As with actual life, we interact differently with different people in our lives.

A boy will not react to a friend the same way he does a brother. He will not react the same to a sister as he does a brother. The same holds true for all other relationships. All these different interactions help create a fully dimensional protagonist.

As you're creating your story's characters' dynamics, keep in mind that all characters play a part in creating a realistic story, even in fantasy and sci-fi.

This means that your protagonist needs a responsive partner or team member (character) when interacting, otherwise the interaction will feel one-sided and flat.

Create Character Continuity

In order to create a continuity of character traits for all characters, each character needs a character sheet.

While for some this may seem tedious, it is well worth the effort. You may be three quarters through the book and can't remember how character A interacted with character D.

You won't want to have to search through the story to find this little tidbit of information.

Also, keep in mind that each character will have his/her own motivation for actions and reactions. This is part of their character traits and should be listed on their character sheet.

Remember, every action, reaction and interaction created in your story will not only develop the protagonist, but also the other characters in the story.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Karen’s children’s books include “Walking Through Walls” and “The Case of the Stranded Bear.” She also has a DIY book, “How to Write Children’s Fiction Books.” You can check them out at: If you need help with your children’s story, visit:


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Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

It’s noted that you should let the reader see your protagonist’s characteristics within the first few pages. This enables the reader to quickly identify with him. This connection will determine whether the reader turns the next page.

Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, your protagonist will have ordinary strengths (possibly extraordinary, but within the realm of reality); he will also have weaknesses. These qualities need to be conveyed early on.

Here are 13 characteristics that may pertain to a protagonist or main character (MC):

1. Intelligent: Is your MC smart? If so how smart: is he a genius, did he finish college, does he gets all As in school?

2. Handy or Crafty: Maybe your MC isn’t great at academics, but is he handy, musically inclined, or crafty?

3. Arrogant: Does your character think he’s better or smarter than others?  Does he let others know it? If so, how?

4. Trustworthy: Is your MC the kind of individual that others feel they can trust?

5. Determined: Does your MC know what he wants and strives to obtain his goal?

6. Greedy: Is your MC the kind of person who wants everything he doesn’t have? Is he the type of person who wants much more than he actually needs? Does he make it obvious?

7. Dependable: Is your MC the kind of individual that others know they can count on?

8. Brave: Does your MC do what he has to even if he’s frightened? Is he known for his bravery?

9. Cowardly: Is your MC afraid of his own shadow? Does he try to avoid any kind of confrontation or adventure?

10. Caring: Does your MC demonstrate kind and caring qualities? Does his family and friends think of him as a caring individual?

11. Selfish: Does your MC think of only himself? Is he known for this unsavory quality?

12. Strong: Does your MC have great physical strength? Is he strong emotionally?

13. Weak: Is your MC weak either physically or emotionally or both?

These are just some of the characteristics you can give to your protagonist. There are many others though, such as: shrewd, cheap, a liar, a thief, a go getter, beautiful, awkward, loyal, kind, lazy, introvert, extrovert, and cruel.

It’s up to you as the creator to give your protagonist a set of characteristics that will allow him to connect to the reader – whether the reader loves him or hates him there must be a connection. This connection is what will cause the reader to keep turning the pages.

Be cautious though, if you are giving your protagonist unsavory qualities at the beginning, be sure to include at least one redeeming quality otherwise your audience may not find that connection and decide not to read on.

And, remember, you can always have the protagonist change characteristics through the momentum of the story. He can start out as a coward and through various occurrences within the story he can evolve into a hero, or whatever you choose. That’s the amazing thing about being a writer – you create something from nothing. You give your character breath and dimension.

This article was first published at:

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting and rewriting business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

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(An easy-read middle grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China)


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How Body Types can Help Shape your Characters

When I first read about constitutional psychology, breaking down the human physique and behavior by body type, a theory proposed by American psychologist Dr. William H. Sheldon in the 1940's, I thought I hit pay dirt. Better known as fitting people into three body types: endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectomorphs, Sheldon explained his views in two books, Varieties of Physique and Varieties of Temperament.

Sheldon's body type theory is discussed in a book I mentioned in my June 28th post, Child Behavior: The Classic Child Care Manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development, by Frances L. Ilg, M.D., Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and Sidney M. Baker, M.D.,, which among other things, offers an interesting description of children's behavior at each age, from four weeks to ten years. The descriptions are general and offer guidelines to better understand children and for our purposes, offer incite into the characters in our stories. After the age of ten, Child Behavior launches into a discussion of individuality. That's where the body types fit in, neat and reassuring.

At least that's what I thought until I did some exploring. Though I barely scratched the surface, I found that constitutional psychology is a controversial theory. The Wikipedia article about it, which also categorizes it as, Somatotypes, another name for the body types, states that this school of thought was widely popular in the 1940's and '50s but is today discredited, partly due to the idea's tendency to promote cultural stereotypes. "One study found that endomorphs are likely to be perceived as slow, sloppy and lazy; mesomorphs . . . as popular and hardworking; . . . and ectomorphs are often viewed as intelligent but fearful and usually take part in long distance sports, such as marathon running . . . The principle criticism . . . was that it is not a theory at all but one general assumption . . ."

You would never know this by exploring the topic online. It appears that physical fitness organizations, such as,, and, have jumped on the band wagon, though there is a common disclaimer such as the first sentence in one of the sites, "Most people have a combination of the three body types." You can find all sorts of help in determining your body type, from examining your eating and training habits to taking a test to find out your body type, or even by using a "body type calculator."

Like the fitness websites, the authors of Child Behavior are careful to point out that each individual is made up of a combination of the characteristic body types; no one is strictly made up of only one.

What does this have to do with creating characters?
For a writer's purpose, taking a look at body type characteristics can simply offer another tool to help understand the characters in our stories, why they act the way they do and how other characters might relate to them; much as the two references books, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, can do.

The following chart summarizes what the authors of Child Behavior noted as key points of the body types and what is considered their accompanying normal behavior:

                        Endomorphs                             Mesomorphs                                  Ectomorphs      

Characteristic Soft and spherical shape           Hard, firm, strong              Thin, fragile with long
                       Unkindly known as fat             Heavy muscles                    Slender arms and legs
                       Big bones
                       Well-developed heart
                       and circulatory system

Behavior        Relaxed, loves comfort            Vigorous and active             Restrained, shy, inhibited
                      Sociable, loves food                  Loves exercise, active         Oversensitive
                      Loves people, affectionate        Can be domineering            Desire concealment
                                                                                                                     Shrink from ordinary social

Sleeping       Enjoys sleep-goes to sleep and  Loves to wake up, active     Hates to sleep and wake up;
                     gets up easily                                                                          wants to keep dreaming
Eating          Seems to "live to eat"                Hearty eaters                        Eat very little and seem
                                                                                                                    never to gain weight, yet
                                                                                                                    are among healthiest of types
                                                                                                                    Might not notice missing a

Emotions    Open, warm, loving, friendly,   Naturally noisy, vigorous,   Normal: holds emotions
                    Responsive                                assertive and dominating    inside
                    Seems to express emotions       Laughs the loudest              Can be characterized by:
                    easily                                                                                     Stony silences
                                                                                                                  Shows little affection
                                                                                                                  Seems to lack warmth and

Along with posting photos of children on my bulletin board who look like the characters in my stories, and modeling my characters after children I have known; viewing my characters by body type, even with fuzzy boundaries knowing each type doesn't fit into any one neat category, has helped me get a clearer picture of who they are. I hope the suggestions in this post help bring your characters into sharper focus, too.

Image: "Autumn Abstract" courtesy of Simon Howden at

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed two of Joyce Sweeney's online courses, on fiction and writing picture books. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is currently developing several works for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

The dossier - who is this character?

Guest post by Dr. Bob Rich

The dossier is a useful tool for a novelist. It can be entirely in your head, but if there are lots of characters, you may find it essential to write down the relevant details for each. That helps prevent glitches like Susie's son changing from Jim to John, or Mr Cartwright's occupation being posthole digger in chapter 5, and postman in chapter 25.

How you organise this material is up to you. I often have a set of notes at the start of the novel, to be deleted upon completion (or when the character is no longer relevant).

What goes into the dossier? Everything you as author know about the person. As more details emerge, you can add them.

You can see many examples of dossiers in published novels. A new character enters, and the author gives an instant summary of the details that will be relevant to the story. Here is an example:

Harold Smith walked into the room. He was a man in his 50s with a potbelly and salt-and-pepper hair, an overworked accountant with immense experience but questionable morals. Jill introduced me to him, saying, "Martin, meet Harold, just the man you need for your project."

This scene is clearly from Martin's point of view (POV). That is, in order to BE in the story, I as reader need to create the temporary illusion that I am Martin. The author has created a shady accountant for me to employ for some nefarious purpose, and I (Martin) am just meeting him for the first time.

So, how do I know that he is "an overworked accountant with immense experience but questionable morals?"

My point is: the AUTHOR needs Harold's dossier in order to write about him. The character Martin has no access to this dossier. Therefore, to stay within Martin's POV, the author must avoid this statement. Giving Harold's physical appearance is fine, because Martin can see that.

Here is a second example:

Genevieve Rocker felt like wetting her pants from terror, as she looked into the black hole of the gunbarrel. As a lady of 75, with a lifetime of helping people in all walks of life, she was used to all sorts of hardships. Despite the many pains of her body, she wanted to live. Her thin body shook, her blue eyes glazed over in the expectation of instant death.

If you were terrified, expecting to be shot this instant, would you be thinking about your age, your past history of helpfulness and hardships, even the many pains of your body? Of course not. You would be in that present moment, entirely focussed on the current emergency. Genevieve will feel the same way. She is completely unlikely to be concerned with her body build or eye colour, or what her eyes might look like to someone else.

So, reporting a new character's dossier is a bad thing. It is an info dump, an author intrusion, and should be treated by amputation.

When a new person comes into your life, you immediately find out a few things: gender, approximate age, physical appearance, perhaps name, tone of voice, your automatic emotional reaction to this new acquaintance. Say Harry goes on a blind date, and meets Salicia. She is not going to hand him her CV, or biography, or her scores on various psychological tests. He will find out about her in dribs and drabs, as the occasion arises.

This is how it should happen with people in a book too.

About the author: Dr Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller, with 15 published books, 4 of them award winners. His latest novel, "Ascending Spiral: Humanity's last chance," is garnering a growing list of 5 star reviews, and a few 4 star. Check out his writing showcase


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Both readers and writers can benefit from a surprise once in a while.

Creating surprises in your writing can take many forms. You can surprise a reader by choosing a word that is new to them - or at least one that is rarely used.  Consider ailurophile - one who is a cat lover, or bucolic - a lovely rural setting. 

Or consider a surprising metaphors. "A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running." - Groucho Marx or  "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." Marcel Proust

Similes are another great way to surprise your reader. A simile uses the words like or as to form an image for your reader. "The snow fell like billions of breadcrumbs, promising a flurry of activity and a huge pile of shit in the aftermath."

Finally you can create a surprise for your reader by a turn of plot or by a character doing something, well, uncharacteristic. Some ideas for how to surprise: 
  • have a character share an embarrassing secret
  • cause your character to fail at achieving their goal
  • increase the emotion in a scene or change the expected emotion
  • introduce a new character in an unusual way
Creating surprises for your reader ensures your reader will want to keep going. Creating surprises while you write does the same thing for you. So go on - surprise me!


D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 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

Childhood Memories and Writing Books

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about a book club that I started with a few other people.  We read books on the craft of writing. The club has been beneficial so far.

The first book that the members of my book club decided to read was Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin.  It was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2000. CCKWL is more for those who are writing books for middle grade, but I think that one will find some useful information on writing books for other age groups. Since CCKWL contains a lot of information, we divided the book into sections to read and discuss. I read Part 1. (In the future, I think all of us should read the entire book, regardless of the length or content.) This is not a full review of Elaine’s book, but I will share something that made an impact on me.

Elaine suggested recalling your own childhood and drawing from those experiences to create your characters and stories.  Diaries, journals, scrapbooks, and photos from your youth may help you remember your life and provide ideas. Talking to friends and family can also offer some insight into your early years.

Throughout the book, Elaine included exercises to help inspire the writer. One exercise in particular, really hit home for me. This exercise concerned emotions that a character might feel. The reader was asked to make a list of possible emotions, situations and sensations. An example that Elaine gave was the emotion of fear. A very common emotion of course, but it was her example of a situation that jumped right out at me. She mentioned an unleashed barking dog. Whoa!

When I was a child, I had a fear of dogs. Elaine’s exercise brought up some old memories. I don’t remember the initial incident, but I was told that a large, friendly neighborhood dog wanted to play. I was little and frightened by this animal. As a result, I grew up with a fear of dogs. Whenever I saw one, I tried my best to avoid it. I can remember screaming, I was so scared. I was never bitten or attacked, but the emotion that I felt was very real. I felt this way around most dogs. As for dogs I knew (ones owned by friends for example), usually I was fine and could even make friends with them. However, in most cases, the fear would overtake me and ultimately, I would have nothing to do with the dog.

Eventually I out grew most of my fear. However, I continue to avoid dogs. I make friends with very few of them. I do not like dogs jumping up on me or trying to sit in my lap. When encountering a dog I do not know, I freeze, and those old feelings come rushing back.

I wasn’t expecting all of this from reading a book on how to write a children’s book!

Writing can help one resolve old issues. My fellow club members suggested I use my childhood fear as a basis for a story. Perhaps then, I can better come to terms with these long ago experiences.

I recommend Elaine’s book. I borrowed a copy but will probably purchase one eventually. Even if the book you are writing is not for children, you may still find “CCKWL” helpful.

I wonder what the next book on the craft of writing will bring forth!

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is working on her first children’s book.

Writing Workshop: Creating Great Characters

Yep, that's right, Writers on the Move has another helpful workshop geared for writers. As a writer I know the importance of learning my craft and that means attending informative writing workshops that help me on my writing journey. So, be sure to register this week!

Here's the basic information you'll need:

Title: Creating Great Characters
Presented by: Maggie Ball
Date: December 07, 2011 (Wednesday)
Time: 5:00 - 5:45 PM EST (U.S.)
Format: Live Webinar
Handout: Yes
Cost: Free

Workshop Description:

Think of amazing characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O'Hara (Gone with the Wind), Tarzan, Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Peter Pan, Charlotte (Charlotte's Web), T. S. Garp (The World According to Garp), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), Harry Potter, the list goes on and on.

Characters are at the heart of every great story and every fiction author needs to know how to create good ones. Think temperament, intelligence, appearance, physical characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, and so on. Great characters need to be real, engaging, and motivating; they need to keep the reader reading. They need to touch something in the reader; they need to be remembered.

Join Maggie Ball as she discusses characterization.

To register for “Creating Great Characters” email Maggie Ball at:

Details to attend the LIVE WEBINAR will be provided upon registration.

There will also be a bonus PDF workshop handout included and registered attendees will receive a recording of the live webinar.

For the full details CLICK HERE.


Until next time,
Karen Cioffi

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

Build Your Brand

  Contributed by Margot Conor While you are writing your novel, or even when it is just an idea in your head, start to build your brand. Res...