How to Write Character Personalities

As promised, this Tuesday I’ll be talking about writing character personalities into a story. To be honest, I’m not feeling great tonight so this post will be fairly to-the-point but still helpful for anyone struggling. I’ll start with a simple 5-step method to creating characters.

  1. Write up a profile in a separate document or in a notebook. Define the age, sex, race, height, appearance, etc. of the character. Choose their hobbies, their likes and dislikes, the job they work at, etc. Outlining these details can be helpful while writing your story in order to better understand your character.
  2. Choose a name for your hero. A name defines who someone is in most cases. Friendlier characters might have nicknames. Characters who hate their name would choose an entirely different name in the story to go by. Some characters might insist other characters call them “sir” or by their surname. This all affects personality.
  3. Dive further into the character’s background. What’s this person’s deal? How do they think? How do they react to a situation? Describe their past, what brought them to this point in their life, and what they see in their future.
  4. Now make the story revolve around them. Start writing about this character’s life, the great problem they have to overcome, the people they have to rise above to reach their end goal.
  5. Lastly, continue to explore your hero as he/she progresses throughout the story. Never let them become uninteresting. Always give them something to do or say that keeps the reader interested in them. Your hero is what drives the plot.

Let’s talk about what makes a character interesting. For me, it’s seeing the character as human. I don’t mean your hero has to be a human or look like a human. I mean the character has to show human-like qualities that readers can relate to.

As humans, we show love, strength, weakness, courage, etc. To be human is to feel pain and sadness and despair, but there is strength and happiness there, too. Many characters are written to be amazing–superhuman beings who can do anything after a few chapters. Nothing annoys me more than a character who begins in chapter 1 as someone who knows nothing, and by chapter 5 is wielding the most powerful magic of all time and wrecking house with it. That’s an example of a “puppet character”. They have a small scene of doubt but then they rush into battle only to succeed.

Meh.

I want to see the struggle, the growth, the magic of a character developing! That’s what writing is all about: showing the journey of a character as they overcome everything in their path.

Not all characters have a straightforward personality. Some characters wear masks around others. For example, the captain of the guard might be stern and blunt around society, but kind and gentle around his siblings. An assassin or bounty hunter might be all smiles and kind words in conversation, but is thinking the complete opposite on the inside.

Situations or events can cause a character to change personalities, as well. If a character came in contact with some kind of extreme power, would they use that power for goodness or to destroy? Would they devolve into someone who only lusted after more power?

Characters in families might act similar to one another. This is partially due to both genetics and situational events. Everyone has the free will to make their own decisions, but growing up in a family that–for example–doesn’t believe magic is used for good will cause a character to also believe that way, and they may question or doubt it on their journey. Coming into contact with other people will also be a deciding factor in how characters behave.

The most important feature your character needs is a flaw. They can have more than one if you want (actually, I encourage more than one). You need to remember that having a flaw isn’t a bad thing; it’s what makes them human. And I don’t mean the “I don’t know I’m beautiful” flaw, where every other character has to remind your hero how amazing they are. Or the “it’s so tough being this gorgeous” flaw. I’m talking about real flaws that push the plot forward–a flaw a character has to overcome to succeed. It might not go away in the end, but if for a moment they can put it aside to save the day or achieve their goals, that’s a good story in the making.

Not every flaw has to be related to the plot, however. Flaws are essentially traits every character should have to be interesting (just don’t pair “I don’t know I’m beautiful” with “I’m so horribly clumsy” and then have a love interest come in to find your character oh-so-amazing). A flaw can be as simple as having the super smart character be incredibly forgetful. Be creative!

Moral flaws are the most important. When a character doesn’t know how to proceed with a difficult decision, they consult their moral compass. They can’t always be right, just as they can’t always be wrong. The most interesting characters live in the “grey”, where decisions have consequences and not everything turns out swell in the end. Not every person is entirely good, just as not every person is entirely bad. Even your villains will have their moments of goodness. When your character faces a situation they’ve never faced before, who knows what will happen? You have to decide what choice they’ll make in that moment: will they choose the right decision or the decision that works out best for them?

Moving on to the dreaded back story. Don’t cringe. Everyone needs a back story in order to become more than a one-dimensional puppet. I’ve written a post about back stories in the past, and you can find it by clicking this pretty link. Back stories can reveal a lot about a character and their personality. Remember to make use of that tool when writing your novel.

Lastly, don’t fall into stereotypes. Don’t write the macho guy who isn’t smart, or the girly girl who screams at the first sign of trouble. These characters fall pretty flat in writing. Create intricate, fun characters that capture a reader’s attention and holds it. And remember to make your antagonist as memorable and full of flaws as your protagonist!

If you have any questions or anything to add to “character personalities”, leave a comment below! : )

Happy writing,

Sandra

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