Fiction Writing: Tips on creating your characters!

Hello, reader! Today, I’m going to give my tips on creating a character from personal experience – keep in mind, like all other tips posts I’ve made, these are only tips and by no means at all am I telling you what you have to do. These are simply suggestions and explanations to how I have come to create my characters, a compilation of tips on creating them when people need help doing so. If you have a different opinion than I do on these topics and go about it differently, that is perfectly fine and I don’t intend to offend anyone with the ways I go about character creation.

Keep in mind that I will probably be editing this in the future to fix it up, or maybe even making an entire new post about it if I see fit. I will not be posting about appearance and designs today, as that is a post I have planned to make an entire post on it’s own in the near future. Now, onward, to the real content of this post!

In my time writing and creating characters, I’ve found three important things that have helped me greatly in creating my characters. While you do not have to take them into consideration, I suggest it strongly.

  1. Try not to go overboard on anything and definitely do not be overly outrageous with it.
  2. Characters who some people can relate to tend to be more ‘realistic’/’believable’, even in fantasy settings, and this can help in making a character people will like or dislike and gain some sort of emotion towards, including yourself.
  3. Almost everything about a character should have reason behind it if it, with the exception of some details that could have come about without reason.

The following bullet points are what I personally take into consideration when making a character, with my insight in the paragraphs that come with them. Things I feel the need to stress are italicized in the case of not wanting to read through long passages.

  • What is this character’s purpose in your work?

This is something very important to know about your character – be they made for a role-play, a personal story for a piece of writing or a fan fiction. Are they the main character, or are they minor? How are they related to the story itself? Are they to be a protagonist or antagonist? What is their point in the story?

  • Character name

Naming a character can be fun, but complicated at times – there are so many names out there, how could you choose just one? It can be so overwhelming at times, but it’s one of the simplest and easiest ways to recognize a character, along with an important one, so it is necessary. It depends on what kind of name you want – do you just want a name you like, or a name relevant to the story, maybe both? Is your character, or the audience reading/watching, unaware of the name? Are they referred to as a real name, or a code of some sort (numbers, letter combinations)?

If you want to take a character’s name’s meaning into play, I would suggest looking at websites or books that list meanings and origins of names with the name. While a minor detail, it means something and has a way of making us feel clever sometimes – why would someone look up your character’s name’s meaning? It’s a little meaningful nugget that people may not see, and if they do, it could give someone a little smile out of figuring it out. Along side this, a lot of people like to have as many details, no matter how minor or unnoticed, meaningful to the ‘story’ they are viewing and/or creating (visual, text-based or not).

Whether you want it to have a meaning related to the story or not, it’d be a good idea to at least give your characters names that fit in to their ‘story’. If your character is of a nationality or race that tend to use certain types of names, you should have a good reason for giving them a name that doesn’t fit that if you do. Were their parents or whomever gave them their name from a different race/nationality or simply fascinated by that name? If so, why – what reason is it that they have a name different than what most customs of their race/society would have given them? I’d not advise giving your characters outrageous real names (nicknames are fine, most of the time) that wouldn’t quite fit (I.E someone with an Asian name while they are from or in a society that tends to have different types of names, such as European, American, etc) without a good reason.

If your character has some sort of code as a name, such as letters, numbers, or words, make sure it has a reason behind it and isn’t too complicated for the audience to remember. Why is this character referred to as something like XY003, #69, or some random word? Is it a reason that has to do with their past, if so, what reason is that? If they have a name aside from this, what is it and why aren’t they referred to by that?

When I have trouble picking a name for a particular character, I try to find something that I know will fit them and I personally like. I tend to go through list after list of names online, putting together a personal list of names I like and names I think would be good for the character, then give the personal list a second look and keep narrowing it down until I find the name that character eventually gets.

In  all, my biggest tip here is don’t be too outrageous with it. It’s okay to be unique, but still be sensible in the world the character belongs in, whatever it may be. Try not to give them names that are hard to remember, be it because of it’s over-simplicity or because it’s too long or complicated. Lastly, it’s a name, don’t get stressed out over it.

  • Personality

A character’s personality is one of their most notable qualities. It’s something that tends to make or break a character. Personalities tend to be fluid, something that people can’t be too unsure of, and if you want it to change, I would suggest doing it gradually and with reason, unless called for by other traits of the character, such as having multiple personalities. Keep in mind that this is different than a character’s mood, that can, with reason, change very suddenly or stay the same for long periods of time, depending on the character’s situations and personality.

Giving a character a full personality can be a bit complex at times, and it’s a tad hard to explain straight-out – I’ll set this up with questions to ask yourself about the character (or the character themself, if they’re developed to the point where they’re doing things and changing on their own before you realize it! ;P) with tips and pointers instead of just giving tips.

  1. Is your character’s personality generally positive, negative, or in-between? In other words, are you planning on making them a positive (such as optimistic, peppy, cheery), negative (such as pessimistic, irritable, grumpy, sad), or a combination of both?
  2. Do you want your character’s personality to be static or dynamic throughout the course of their story? Do you plan on making your character’s personality stay the same throughout, or do you want it to change? If so, how does it change and why? If not, why doesn’t it change?
  3. What are some positive traits to their personality, and what are some negative ones? Less in terms of happy/unhappy, and more in terms of things a real person would like about this character and things they wouldn’t, kind of like reasons someone would or wouldn’t want to befriend your character, personality-wise. (Using my own protagonist as an example, some of his good personality traits are being a loyal friend who likes to help those they care about when they can, while some negative ones are being very negative and showing a rude personality to most people, making it hard to like and befriend them, and some traits that can be both good and bad that I’ve given him are a certain stubbornness and a bit of an ego)
  4. Is their personality one expected of someone their age, and if not, are they more mature than most people their age, or more immature? This is more along the lines of whether or not your character acts their age or not, and something usually very simple to answer and understand, so I don’t really have much to say here. If you’re going to make a character more or less mature than expected of their age, however, keep in mind how your other characters/other people would respond to this part of their personality.
  5. Why is your character’s personality the way it is? Take into consideration as to why your character acts the way they do. Is it because they were brought up that way, or did something in their life change them to the point where they act differently after/because of it? If they’re hiding a different personality beneath the one they show to other or certain people, why is this? An important thing about personalities is why they are this way, and it’s another thing that makes a character’s personality more interesting.
  6. How does the character respond to stress? Everyone has stressful times in life sometimes, and everyone responds to it differently. How does your character respond to it, and why? Some examples of this that I have seen in both real-life and fiction would be: pretending to be happy or joyous or trying to make it seem like they aren’t stressed, breaking down (crying, panicking, having panic/anxiety attacks, emotionally shutting themselves down, it d depend on the stress of the situation), getting irritable or violent, letting walls of a fake personality fall down and reverting to normal, even overreacting to the degree of the situation in one of these ways, perhaps even combinations or variations of any of them, the degrees of which all depending on how much stress the person is under. Keep in mind that you probably want their reaction to be realistic and not too overdone without reasoning, depending on the character’s personality, the amount of stress, the situation, and other traits such as anxiety/stress disorders and the like.
  • Quirks

Most people tend to have at least tiny quirks. Some examples of quirks are things like twirling your hair, bouncing your leg, chewing/biting your nails, sucking your thumb, and the like, sometimes in certain situations. Quirks can be small and unnoticeable, or they can stand out heavily, being something people may notice often, or something people don’t notice at all. They can range from being things that are simple and normal, or things that are very extreme and people may find odd. You can find many lists of quirks online if you’d like some better ideas of them, or need help coming up with quirks for your characters. Try not to go overboard here, as well – there’s a difference between a quirky character and just too much.

  • Hobbies

Almost anyone has hobbies, whether they get to do them often or not. Reading, writing, drawing, painting, singing, sports – things like these are hobbies when they are done in free time, while they can also be professions. Anything people do in their free time for entertainment can be considered a hobby, be it something like the ones listed above or something like fencing, different types of fighting, etc. There are so many different hobbies a character could have in many different worlds or alternate universes, ranging from hobbies that require physical participation to others that require mental participation, and even both, it feels like it would be impossible to list them all. They can be things that you can come up with off the top of your head, or things you can find in other people, on lists, in other characters… the possibilities are simply endless!

  • Lifestyle

Overall, how does your character live their life? It’s not very hard to understand and probably isn’t something I need to go into a lot of depth about. This ranges from professions and schools to things like sexual orientation, their views of life and how they implement them, how they live their lives. This should effect your character somehow, be it a negative impact or a positive one, depending on whether they enjoy their current lifestyle or not, and while two characters can like or dislike their current lifestyle, it will probably effect them differently depending on their personality.

  • History

Your character’s past – this can be something normal or shocking, perhaps enviable or pitiable. My suggestions here is, to give your character an interesting past, try to make it a combination of normal and… not-so-normal, something that the audience can be curious about, IF you want to go into the character’s past eventually. If you don’t, I would suggest having their past be normal for someone like them or something not important to go back to and explain in their story (while things may become less average as the story goes on). Try not to make them have a perfect life, however, as everyone has problems – but don’t give them a sad past for the sake of getting people to pity them.

A past has an effect on a personality, and making it too much of one side of the balance would probably cause that with a personality, and making something too perfect or too traumatic may be the start of creating a mary-sue, especially without reason. This isn’t to say don’t make them have a good or bad past, but to say do it carefully and with reason when it comes to things. Major points in their past, such as traumatic or satisfying events, should have an effect on the character’s personality and a lot of the time, involved with the plot of a story. In example, a family member’s death may effect them or their family, which would effect their personality to some degree if it were to effect them, which in turn would effect the way they react to things in the plot. This death itself may even be a part of the plot, but it does not have to be. Other things, negative and positive, in their past, especially if they’re major, should have some effect on the character or other characters and perhaps even the plot.

That’s all I have on character creation today. I hope this has helped, be it a little, a lot, or anywhere in between – thanks for reading!

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