April 17, 2009

How Do You Develop Your Characters?

Author Morgan Mandel's recent blog post about a neighbor's barking dog, and a cat in the window, got me thinking about the things you see that influence your fiction - or should.

Being a good writer means being observant. An idea can start with something as simple as a headline, a news story, or a photo.

How about your neighbors or neighborhood? Or those around you? One story I wrote started with a memory of an old, stooped woman usually dressed in black who lived in a creepy stone building. As cruel as kids are, the little old lady was known as the neighborhood witch and no one wanted to go near her house.

Next time you don't feel like writing or are a little "dry" on ideas, try people watching. Sit in the library, bookstore or café a while (it's okay it's research, ha!) and chances are, you'll see someone interesting that will fit into your book or story.

A character chart can be used as an idea file for characters. Jot down (or draw if you're talented) the characteristics of people you see as you're sipping your tea or coffee. Use the ideas to build characters. See sample character list below:

Character Ideas List

Height, body size:

Facial Characteristics:


Glasses or?

Facial Hair, style, color?


Skin tone, marks:

Hair color, style:


Characteristics: (Quirks, actions, etc.)

Distinguishing or other marks: (tattoos, scars, etc.)

Speech: Inflection, pitch, patterns



** YOUR TURN: What are some of your favorite idea generating spots? How do you develop your characters?


  1. Nice article. I used a similar type list when creating the main characters of my last book.

  2. Well done! When my writing gets a little dry, I try reading some of my favorite mystery authors as a way of "picking up the scent." I am very fortunate that my day job affords me the opportunity to people watch all day, and I interact with a number of "characters" all day long. As a matter of fact, last year my wife picked me up a T-shirt with the imprint, "Be careful or you'll wind up in my novel."

  3. I remember someone telling me about a list for developing characters and that's how I started, but I have to adapt it to fit sword and sorcery characters...so therefore,"Do the use Twitter and Facebook?" type questions would not apply!

  4. Other things to think about are your characters reactions when they win or lose, suffer a loss, meet someone new, and so on.
    These traits can be applied whatever the century!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin