Sunday, May 20, 2018

Tricks to Build a Character



The character is the heart of the story in my writing world. I figure out the characters long before I figure out the plot. Maybe because memorable characters are what I look for in books, movies, and shows I love. Maybe because I feel like who a character is will determine how they react to the external and internal impacts going on in his/her life.

I'll be honest, I don't have a single, guaranteed, this-always-works method for determining a character. Sometimes they pop into my head fully formed. More often than not, they start out as a vague entity. I do, however, have several tricks I use to help me profile my character and turn them into something real.

Here are my top 4 methods for setting up my characters:

Character Archetype

I'm a romance writer, and my go to, kick things off tool for creating characters is the book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes.  This book is fabulous because not only does it give several archetypes for heroes and heroines, but it also gives a how would one type of hero work with one type of heroine.

I don't take these and just write my characters out. What I do is take bits and pieces that I think will work particularly well within my story. I also use it as inspiration. Ex. The librarian is quiet but will stand up to the boss when her intellect tells her to. How can I use that in my story?

Write the Blurb (GMC)

I will frequently write the blurb first. My blurbs always have one part for the hero and one for the heroine and essentially lay out the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) in one paragraph for each.

The hero/heroine has a problem/need/opportunity resulting in a required action/mission/quest/job (goal) with obstacles that block his/her path (conflict) with something at stake (motivation).
(This sentence is pulled from a workshop with Larry Brooks - I highly recommend you take it!)

By having a simple sentence that breaks down the cornerstones of my characters, I can reference that throughout my writing to keep myself on track.

Character Verbs

Last year at RWA I took Damon Suede's Power Couples workshop. If you get a chance, take it! The biggest element I use from that workshop is Damon's use of verbs. To paraphrase... He assigns a powerful verb to a character. Then he uses variations/synonyms of that verb for each of their scenes. There's also a way to make sure your H/H have verbs that help create conflict.

Picking a verb for my H/H is one of the first things I do. But seriously, take that workshop. I can't tell you about it as well as Damon can. :)

Pick 1 Particular Thing

I use this technique any time I feel like a character is coming in flat--a main character or a secondary character. Even, sometimes, random characters. I try to think of one very unique thing about that character and I build a backstory around that unique thing. Slipping that 1 particular thing into the story ALWAYS ends up making that character come alive.

Unique things could be a multitude of elements. Usually I try to make it something observable by other characters. For example:
  • a tattoo
  • a scar
  • a particular word they use
  • a favorite song
  • something they don't like
  • something they notice or are drawn to
I could keep going. Hopefully you  get the idea. The other trick is to have that element have meaning to the character. You'd be surprised at how fast that can become a central theme.


I used to just start writing and see how a character developed. Sometimes I still do that (you can only make a pantser plot so much). But These techniques have become so effective for me, that I find I'm addicted and have to do them every time. If you've read my books, can you pick out any of these in my characters? I'd love to see if my craft is showing. ;)

Fellow authors, what are your favorite tricks?

***This post was originally part of an #MFRWAuthor Blog Hop, but I wanted to share here as well.

3 comments:

Diane Burton said...

Abigail, I'm so glad you shared this with us. So many great ideas for discovering our characters. I'm definitely going to use your "1 Thing" idea for my work in progress. Thanks.

Maureen said...

I always enjoy your posts, Abigail! I like the "1 Thing" as well and often use this to give something distinctive to my characters. Because I often think of real people I know and realize there is 1 Thing that makes them unique.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Great advice for characterization, Abigail.