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How to Come Up With Characters for Your Fiction Story

October 23, 2016

If you are a fiction author, published or not, you know how easy it is to get attached to your characters. You think of them as friends, and may even worry about them sometimes. But what do you do when it’s time to end a story, or book series, and you have to say goodbye to current characters and come up with new ones? Some authors have no problems coming up with new characters, and may even have too many characters in their heads, but others struggle to find quality characters to write stories about. If you are in this latter category, here are some ideas to help.

Clip Pictures from Magazines or Newspapers

Look through magazines or newspapers and clip out pictures of interesting looking people. You can use these clippings to make collages or file folders of different kinds of people. You can categorize them by how they look, such as making a collage of brunettes, or you can make file folders that are organized in any way that makes sense to you, and hang up pictures of people that look like your characters in a place where you can easily see them when you’re writing.

Perform a Character Interview

‘Interviewing’ your character can help you come up with physical traits, and personality intricacies. Come up with a selection of questions to ask your character, such as these good examples:

What is your birth date?

Do you have a pet? If not, would you like to get one?

Do you attend church? How regularly?

What type of vehicle do you drive?

Do you consider yourself to be tech savvy?

What is your earliest childhood memory?

How many siblings do you have?

What education do you have?

What is your favourite food? Do you like to cook for yourself?

Do you have any serious health problems?

Do you have any kids?

Do you exercise regularly, and if so, what types of exercise do you like (i.e. running, weightlifting, Pilates, etc)

Where do you see yourself in 10 years

Etc, etc...

While you are interviewing, you should imagine that your character is sitting across the table from you. Take note of how they look in your mind. Hair colour, eye colour, how they are dressed. Do they seem comfortable in this type of dress, or did they dress up for the interview? How do they portray themselves? Are they confident or nervous? Do they fidget?

A character interview may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but what would a fiction writer be without imagination? Don’t worry if you can’t come up with everything all at once. As you get started, you will find that the character will start to ‘take over’ and tell their story for you.

Flip a Coin

This is similar to a character interview, but with more chance. Come up with a list of opposite traits, such as quiet/loud, short/tall, blue eyes/brown eyes, casual/dressy, rich/poor. Write these out in two columns on a sheet of paper then get out a coin. Choose which column is heads, and which is tails. Flip the coin one time for each set of traits and circle the one that ‘wins’. This is a very risky way to develop a character and might not make a lot of sense. Don’t set the traits you arrive at in stone because your character might act differently once you start actually writing about him or her. This exercise can be valuable if you are really stuck trying to develop a character.

Use Real People

This option is the most risky. Unless you are writing a Historical Fiction story with your grandmother as the main character, this is probably not a good way to come up with characters. Unless you have express permission from someone to use them in your story, they may be offended if they read your book and recognize themselves.

On the other hand, going to a public place such as a mall, restaurant, or park, is a great opportunity to learn more about how people behave, and possibly get ideas for fictional characters. Find a spot where you can quietly observe without being creepy, and you may see an interaction that gives you an idea for not only a character, but maybe a plot too.

Just Write

Worst case scenario, if the above exercises don’t get you past the writer’s block your experiencing, just start writing. Open a blank word processor file, or get out some blank paper and begin writing something. Anything. Write about what you ate for breakfast, where you went yesterday, what you’re wearing, or any other random thing you can think of. Then try imagining any random character in your experience with you, and write about that. Any sort of writing will start to stimulate your imagination and a new character will probably pop right up.

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