Saturday, September 11, 2010

Character Matters

We know them well...

Wilbur, Charlotte, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, Alice, Cinderella, Holden Caulfield, Max, Sam-I-Am, Mrs. Whatsit, Dorothy, Nancy Drew, and so many others. They are old friends that linger in our minds well into adulthood, in small ways shaping and shifting our lives. Some are old, some new, some recreated, some preserved in time. Next to our parents, they were our first heroes and heroines. They helped us identify the pieces of our personalities. They made us laugh and cry. They comforted and they excited. They were more than figments of our imaginations; they were the food that fed our hungry imaginations.

The characters from my favorite childhood books are never far from my mind when I write. Certainly plot, theme, scenery, point of view, and tone are all equally important drivers in our stories. But without characters to make the mistakes, find the treasure, solve the mystery, follow the road, travel in time, lose the slipper, weave the web, or make the eggs, we're left with empty words on a page.

So, character matters. When I'm creating a new character, I pull from many sources. My stepdaughter is an overflowing fountain of material. But so are her friends. I find traits in magazine articles about children. I am inspired by the stories of children who are making an impact in their communities. I discover stories on websites dedicated to enriching the lives of children. I pull from my personal experiences working with children. I capture minute details watching the children in my family play. Sources for character enrichment abound!

Like author E.B. White, I am "Always...on the lookout for the presence of wonder" when writing. This, my friends, is the easy part. The trickery lies in the organization of what you've discovered to deliver a memorable character. Enter the Character Bible-- a blueprint of your character to answer questions about personality and desires. It addresses the emotional, social, and physical attributes of your character and gives you direction.

What's his name? Is he a namesake? Why?
How old is he?
What are his physical attributes (hair, skin, eyes, height, weight, etc.)?
What is his ethnicity?
Where does he live? Where was he born?
What are his physical quirks?
Who are his friends? Why?
Is he smart? Is he dull? What does he excel in? Where does he fail?
Does he have a big secret?
Does he have siblings? Who's in his family?
What are his weaknesses/flaws?
Is he introverted or extroverted?
Is he athletic?
What small details sets him apart from others?

These are just a few questions to help you create memorable, believable, consistent, and interesting characters. In The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, the author suggest the following when crafting characters: validate confusion, celebrate inconsistency, choose names carefully, ignore the facts, ignore the opinions of others, and ignore the truth.

Creating characters is my favorite part of the writing process. I love the research, the realities, the revisions, and the reward. How do you create memorable characters? Share it here... this is a safe space where character matters!

Always, Athena


  1. One of my favorite precesses of writing is answering those types of questions as I develop my characters. Happy writing.

  2. Great list of questions for creating characters, Athena.

    I'm sort of logical/geeky person so one of the tools I use when creating a character is using the Myers-Brigs personalities. They can be helpful when figuring out how characters tick.

  3. Thanks, MT.

    @Karen: I will have to give Myers-Brigs a try. Had not considered that but can certainly see how it could be extremely helpful.