Monday, 20 February 2012

How I create my characters

On the SCBWI Facebook page there was recently a post asking about books on creating believable characters. It made me think about my characters and how I create them and I thought I would share some of the processes I go through.

I often start off by finding a photo of someone who looks vaguely like my potential character. For example there was a photo of a young girl with amazing eyes which was the inspiration behind my character Saba. I will stick these pictures into a notebook and then start asking questions of the character. Initially these might focus on further physical details about what they look like: height, weight, distinguishing features etc. Then I ask questions about their parents, do they have siblings, what sort of place do they live in and where, their schooling, what are their favourite subjects, what do they hate, what food do they love? What is their biggest secret? Do they have any irritating habits? What would you find in their pocket/school bag etc? This gives me a long list of bits of information that help me to form a picture.

The next thing I will do is get them to write a letter to me telling me all about themselves. It is a bit like free writing but it is not coming from your perspective, instead it is your character's. This gives me a chance to get into their head. If I have several character's who potentially could have similar voices I look for things that could distinguish them. It could be certain words they use frequently or maybe a physical habit they have such as always brushing their hair off their face. Just tiny details that can bring them to life.

The other important thing for me is to decide upon a name. This can be surprisingly difficult and often I find my character's have name changes whilst writing as their original name just doesn't fit with who they become. I have mentioned in a previous post the meanings behind names can be very important to me too so I do tend to use the Internet in order to find names. One tip, try and avoid having several characters with names that that start with the same initial. It can become very distracting for the reader.

Currently I am going through these processes again for my existing novel as I am changing one  of my characters, not his name, but his attitude so I really need to get back into his head and work out he would react in certain situations. This is why I do all this character building so that whatever situation my character might find themselves in I will know exactly how they will react. This way I don't have to stop writing and think instead I can just immerse myself in the story and keep writing.

This is how I create my characters, it may not work for you, but it does for. I was delighted to hear from an agent recently who described my characters as fresh and honest whilst being likeable and readable. How do you create your characters?

Here are the Dawes with a pertinent title: 'If I wanted Someone'


  1. Your process sounds so much like mine!

  2. I am interested in the idea of your characters writing you letters - do they write to you knowing that you are about to tell their story, asking you to include or leave out certain things for instance. Or is it more informal than that - one friend chatting to another in a way that reveals their voice and personality?

  3. I tend to start with them introducing themselves to me but then let the words go wherever they want to. Sometimes this does include things that they think they should do in the story other times it is just like have a conversation. I find it can be surprisingly unpredictable. Sorry for not being able to give you a more definitive answer though Amanda

    1. That's fine - I think you have actually explained it quite well. I've tried the technique where you use your non-dominant hand to allow your character to "write" answers to your questions but straightforward letter writing sounds better. The concentration required to write with my left hand meant I never really could get inside my character's head. I'll give your way a go.

  4. Thanks Vanessa this letter writing from the character to me definately sounds like something to try.