Ame's Thoughts and Advice... ~ Character creation and Development ~

Started by Amelita, November 08, 2010, 12:20:26 PM

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Character Creation and Development: Patterns

How do you distinguish one character from another in your story? Do you actively seek to maintain that difference, or do they all blend into a half-this-half-that narrative voice? Do they all react similarly to what you throw at them, no matter who they are and how they‘re supposed to approach life?

These are important questions for every fiction writer to address, and return to regularly.

When giving our characters life and then following them through a plot, there are two things we can monitor to make sure they are true to themselves: Dialogue and physical actions and reactions.


Each person has a unique pattern of speech. This is a fact. We use some words more than others, we use certain phrases, certain structure… Some of us tell a story in one short sentence that others might tell in a five minute speech. This makes us easily recognized in a room full of people, at least to those who know us.

It all begins with voice

Identifying your characters’ speech pattern is similar to finding your writing voice. I’d advise you to go dig into a few articles on the topic and see what exercises and tips they offer. My personal favorite is over at Men with Pens: “How to find your writing voice“.

When familiar with the concept, or if you are already, apply the knowledge to your character development. Give your heroes voices you feel match the personality you already mapped out and developed to some extent.

To each his own

The first round of voice-casting is easy. You might want your character to sound uptight, young or old, naive, uneducated or snobbish… General terms are easily applied and that‘s a good start, but you’ll want to take it a step further.

Give each character some character! Your snob might over-use “rather” and tend to start every story with “when we were at the summer house recently…”  Your eager twenty-something student might fit “dude” into every other sentence and misuse some common phrase…

You catch my drift. Dialogue is often a major part of fiction and we want our readers to feel the diversity of our characters through that obvious medium.

Physical action & reaction

Just like with dialogue, physical actions follow a pattern. Each person tends to blush under similar circumstances, laugh at similar things and go through a spike in blood-pressure during similar experiences. Sometimes we do this unconsciously, sometimes knowingly. Your characters are no exception, or shouldn’t be.

Stop cracking your knuckles!

Little habits and quirks go easily unnoticed until we focus on them. If you’d study someone’s movement and reaction to situations, people, words… You’d soon see how he scratches his beard a lot when he’s thinking, his foot is constantly on the move when he’s bored and he’s much more comfortable with man-to-man touch when watching football…

These little things pile up and form a living breathing person you can easily write realistically, and in a way that registers to your readers. (I bet you already pictured that guy I described!)

It‘s in the details

Focus on what makes each of your characters unique. It doesn’t have to be a major thing, it might be as trivial as wrinkling his nose when things smell bad, just make sure you have a little (or a lot) that defines them.

Your readers love to feel like they know your characters, and with every quirk you put out there you give them something to build on. Just make sure you don’t go over the top and create a character that is nothing BUT nervous habits.

Following the patterns

As you write your story and your characters develop into multidimensional people, practically leaping off the page, take some time to re-visit those original thoughts. Your characters might grow out of some habits and adopt new ones, but over all they should be consistent.

The same goes for their voice. Their dialogue style might change a little through the course of the story, but they should be recognizable as the same person. Right?

To make it easy

Create a little list of identifying patterns for each character, put it with your other character notes. Use examples, such as: “angry = bites lower lip, says “okay” a lot, doesn’t make eye-contact”. Then, when you need to check on how you’re doing, you consult the list. It’s also a very convenient tool to use when writing new scenes.

What you get from doing this, thinking about this, is a clear sense of difference and identity amongst your characters. You become aware of the nuances that shape your written dialogue and relationships. You find fresh angles and points of view by understanding your heroes better.

Isn’t that what we‘re going for?

RP Etiquette ~ Tumblr ~ Mumbler
~ There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed ~
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Hey, Amelia! Great list, so I felt the divine call to respond positively and to add my own thoughts to yours ;D

You gone through speech, physical appearance and actions. I'd like to continue by adding a few lines about the character's character!

Your character has a bio. OK. Great. What difference does it make?

1. What made you the person you are today? Only a few things, and your past is among them. We react to certain situations the way we do partially because of situations we've been through in the past, because of our life and our general experience. So when you're creating a character, unless it's a newborn he or she will have experienced things in their own past, and they will affect who they are now. When you think about your character's personality, certain things in their past will affect it greatly. The guy who lived on the street for 20 years will hardly be a sophisticated conversationalist. The girl who was mocked for her appearance in high school will feel more insecure when on a date. And so on. There are no rules here, things can affect us in different ways - but there are general patterns and things that make sense most of the time, no? At least I think they do.

2. Give your character an interesting life. "Interesting" means unique. They don't have to have been indianajoneses or laracrofts, but we all have these little stories we can tell that nobody else has had in their lives quite the same way, right? My grandfather gave me a gift for my 13th birthday - a very old set of black and white porn photographs. My brother was shot in the leg with an arrow when he was a child. See? These little things can make each of your characters quite unique in a good healthy way. How you apply these stories in your novels or in your RPs is a subject of a different blog ;)

3. A character with a detailed biography will always have something to talk about, they could have flashbacks in appropriate situation, or add "Like my father used to say" in the middle of a witty dialogue. Biography - at least somewhat detailed and at least somewhat interesting - will add heaps of depth and realism to your characters. Think about it.


1. In my opinion, personality is the hardest thing to give to a character to make them unique, interesting, and consistent (aka with some sort of logic behind them rather than some randomly generated stuff that shouldn't and doesn't belong together). How to do that? The most interesting characters are not ENTIRELY unique. On the contrary. We're social beings, and no matter what you are writing about - modern day L.A. or some elven forest, or a space ship - your character will be a part of a social group. Whether he is a doctor, or she is a demon hunter, or he is a cab driver, or she is a lone mother - your character is of certain age, of certain gender, religion, skin color, profession, etc etc. So your character will be naturally associated with others of the same social group, social circle, or social category. But how to turn that into an advantage? Simply - ask yourself, what are the most common personal characteristics of your character's social group/circle/category? What would an average doctor be like, or an average demon hunter, or an average mother? Then give your character MOST (but not all) of these average common characteristics, and then add a few unique ones that make your char different. A part of the group - but not entirely. Make them too unique and your reader will ask - well if he hates patients, is scared of blood, doesn't care about human life, and is irritated by puzzles, why would he be a doctor? Good question - because he wouldn't be. It's against common sense. But if your character is the typical average doctor in every single aspect - they'll be boring. Of course, the so-called "typical characters" have their well-earned place in literature and art. But the point here is uniqueness - so the best way is to run a fine line between "typical" and "different" to make them adequate, realistic, and at the same time - just different enough.

2. Interests. What drives your character? What makes them tick? What do they SEARCH for, what captivates them, what disgusts them or makes them shrug and say: "Yeah, whatever."? Your character needs motivation to join the story line, to fit into your story (reference - Amelia's article on Vonnegut's 8 rules of writing). But they also need GENERAL motivation, interests, hobbies, preferred topics... etc, etc. We all do. Everybody has some. So give your character at least a few, or they will simply seem incomplete. And keep in mind - interests are a detail. The more detail - the more uniqueness. Which is what we want, don't we? ;D

3. Quirks. Perfectly flawless characters are unrealistic, extremely boring, and generally stupid. Even gods in some mythologies have their little flaws. Unless you're writing about a supreme ultimate all-knowing all-powerful deity (and I doubt you ever would), your character should have little flaws in their character. Afraid of spiders? Not knowing when to shut up? Too cynical? The choice is yours.

These are more or less things I keep in mind when I design a character if I want them to be unique, interesting, and of course - realistic and based on some logic. Biography, appearance and voice lead to reaction patterns, speech patterns, interests, quirks, and general personality. They all affect one another to create a consistent, realistic, and most importantly - unique person. YOUR unique person!

- Ris


Yes, good points to think about in terms of character personality.


Oh, I like this a lot. Always good to see someone pay attention to speech patterns. I don't use the non-verbal communication so much because of a more compact writing style I practice, admittedly. One thing you see a lotta people do though; is have thier own persona and words bleed into their writing. I notice I do this too much anyway. Any tips on giving your characters a speech more of their own other than making a basic-sentences booklet for yourself?


Hey guys, thanks so much for commenting!

Quote from: paraplu on November 23, 2010, 10:54:22 AM
Oh, I like this a lot. Always good to see someone pay attention to speech patterns. I don't use the non-verbal communication so much because of a more compact writing style I practice, admittedly. One thing you see a lotta people do though; is have thier own persona and words bleed into their writing. I notice I do this too much anyway. Any tips on giving your characters a speech more of their own other than making a basic-sentences booklet for yourself?

There are little tricks.
First and foremost is to be aware of it, try to remember what you were going to do. It's very easy to get carried away and drift into your own pattern after a while.
A clever thing to do is make a "sample". think up a few scenarios and write what your character would say. You can have a set list of questions and make each new character answer them in his/her own words. Then, before you write a new post or simply sit down and start writing, look at that sample. It reminds you of the vision you had for the character and gives you a feeling for him/her.
To determine the actual difference in speech, you can do lots of things. Listen to how people around you talk, people on TV, in movies, shows, memorable characters in books... see if you can figure out a style you want for your character.

What you want to focus on are the repeated phrases, the way they structure their sentences and how formal or informal they are. Do they hesitate much? Do they linger at certain points in their sentences?

And, think stereo type. I know it's almost a taboo for some people, but stereo types have their use. You don't have to adapt your character to every curve of that type, you can use a little here and a little there, but having it as a starting point makes it easier to shape the pattern.

Oh, and imagine you are the character. Don't just write about him, write him. You know? If you were a super shy guy who was more afraid of women than any pending apocalypse, you wouldn't say: "Hi, what's up?" to the new girl in class. You'd probably say something like: "Hello. I'm... Can I, uh... Welcome to college. Uh, Elliquiy. Elliquiy College." (That was purely me using a stereo type, heh, but you catch my drift...)

I don't know if this helps at all but I hope it does!


RP Etiquette ~ Tumblr ~ Mumbler
~ There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed ~
Ons & Offs ~ Post Tracker ~ Ladies in Red


Yeah, makes sense. Fair enough. Figure out a vision and stick to it, perhaps possibly take over some words and phrases from befriended PC's? Thanks.


  Wow, I am really impressed by the quality of the advice, here - from all contributors. I love to write but having read this I doubt that I approached the prospect of writing in such a systematic way. And I have to conclude that this is a serious disadvantage on my part.

  Having said that, I would like to add my own two cents. Raphael made an important point of bolstering your character's bio and solidifying it with certain personal anecdotes and stories from the character's past. He also said that it is important to associate your character with a certain group of people (whether it be a social group, professional group, etc).

  One way to take this a step further by either researching the history or mores of that particular group, or, if the group is fictional, nonetheless finding detail to incorporate into the story that would give that same impression of historical reference. One example I can think of was someone from my English class, back in High School, who was writing of his grandfather's "strong Irish" upbringing. Now, since I live in the Boston area, my first impression was "yeah, so what... everyone around here is Irish." But then he incorporate the following lullaby into his story, one that was cooed to him by his mother one night, and it made all the difference because it is an actual, traditional Irish lullaby:

"Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that's an Irish lullaby."

  And this reiterates the point that the other posters were making: Your character is NOT just the result of completely unique quirks and sheer will. He/she is also the product of his/her environment and peers, and both the effect that they have on the character, as well as whether your character feels conflict or in harmony with those outside influences, needs to be documented in your writing.

  I'm really jealous of some of your guys. Have any of you ever taken creative writing courses in college? I regret never having taken any


Hi Sandman and thank you for commenting :)

You make a good point and I think bringing that sort of detail to your character is invaluable, even if you never actually write about it as such but just use as material for you to mold your character of.

RP Etiquette ~ Tumblr ~ Mumbler
~ There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed ~
Ons & Offs ~ Post Tracker ~ Ladies in Red