8 October 2013


We all love to read books where characters jump off the page.  Not only can we imagine what these people look like, but their idiosyncrasies and faults are also evident.  They appear real, and we remember them long after we’ve finishing reading their story.

So, how do readers become so passionate about a character who only exists on the written page?
The short answer is that the character is three dimensional.  Not only has the author described the character’s appearance, but flaws and strengths in personality, and how the character deals with the ever increasing tension as he strives to reach his goal.  We will also have observed the changes that occurred in the character as the story progressed.  This all adds up to the reader caring for, and relating to that character.

How to tackle character development is entirely up to the individual.  Some authors start by creating a detailed list of each character’s physical attributes and personality traits etc., while others might start writing while only having the merest idea of their character’s vocation, general appearance, personality type and background.

I tend to do the latter.  To start with, I give a few physical details that will help the reader imagine this person.  After all, I have a whole book in which to describe (show don't tell) my character’s flaws and quirks without putting it into one paragraph as soon as he or she is introduced.  Here is an example from Murder At The Rocks.

Tall and lean, his refined features enhanced by deep blue eyes, Nicholas Harford cut an imposing figure as he strolled through Terminal 4 of the Los Angeles International Airport for his flight to Sydney and the last leg of his long journey home.  Uppermost in his thoughts was his father, Edward Harford, and their estrangement which had led, in part, to his journey to South America.  The other reason for his year-long sojourn was his entanglement with Claire, the wife of a friend and colleague.  But it was the inevitability of being captured once again by Edward’s oppressive ways that kept him away.  Only when Andrew Pemlett’s letter caught up with him in Ecuador with news of Edward’s ill health did Nicholas contemplate returning to Australia.

I then sprinkle any quirks my characters have throughout the book, and repeat some of these so as  to refresh my reader’s memory.  For example, in my Fitzjohn mystery series, Fitzjohn’s wire framed glasses are mentioned often as is his rotund shape.

How do you create your characters?

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  1. I form characters various ways.. sometimes just off a stranger I know.. sometimes I meld people together I have known. Other times.. I create someone my hero would despise.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Michele. I love your methods of creating characters. Melding people's characteristics is particularly interesting with all their quirks, flaws, as well as their nice bits mixed together. There are so many ways. Thanks for sharing yours. Best Wishes, Jill

  2. An engaging character is certainly a must to hold the readers attention Jill. I imagine creating personalities is part of the fun thing about writing fiction. You can make them into anything you want to.

    Since I've only written nonfiction, the personalities and appearances were already there but I tend to emphasize the quirks in those I know well others may not have casually noticed.

    1. You're right, Anna. Creating characters is probably the best thing about writing a story. I particularly like creating the villain.

      That's interesting what you say about the real characters in a memoir. I'm sure we must notice quirks in people that not everyone sees and can emphasise these. I wonder how these characters like seeing their quirks?