Seven Ways to Create Strong Characters

Creating compelling characters involves much more than just physical attributes. A good writer gets into the head of their characters, so much so at times that the character writes the scene themselves. For example, you might be thinking about a love scene, then the character grabs the reigns and decides to murder their love interest.

The following are seven ideas to help you create a character that jumps out of the page and helps draw your readers in:

  1. Basic statistics – name, age, income, place of residence, occupation, socioeconomic level and nationality
  2. Physical characteristics – height, weight, hair & eye color, shape of face, habits, mannerisms and disabilities
  3. Intellectual/mental/personality attributes and attitudes – intelligence level, educational background, learning experiences and short and long-term goals
  4. Emotional characteristics – strengths or weaknesses, is your character an introvert or extrovert, what makes him/her happy or sad, what are their motivations?
  5. What are their spiritual beliefs?
  6. How is the character involved in the story?
  7. How are they different from the beginning to the end of the manuscript? What have they learned?

Also consider unique skills or talents. I write short stories pertaining to the paranormal, and my novels revolve around characters that are psychics, mediums, shamans, healers and pagans. But one could easily take talents such as these a step further and develop even more interesting characters. What if the psychic/medium were fake and suddenly started really seeing and sensing spirit activity? What if the shaman transformed into various animals? What if the healer could heal with more than just herbs or his/her hands?

The following two paragraphs are an intro to my first novel – In Pursuit of the Paranormal: The Mystery of Texas Canyon. I included these in this article to illustrate what makes one of my main characters stand out from the beginning of the story.

“An abrupt arctic chill permeated the surroundings of the assay office at Vulture Mine. According to her temperature probe, it had dropped to twenty-five degrees inside the dilapidated building—a major decrease from Arizona’s forty-five degree November night air. But the darkness was the worst. A total, all encompassing mass that emitted shadows from everywhere, yet nowhere. Fear froze her feet to the dusty, rotting wood.

She hadn’t wanted it and didn’t ask for it. Yet Lorelei Lanier, investigator with the Arizona-Irish Paranormal Research Society, had a way with ghosts. A gift that was bestowed her the same day that her mother died—June 13th, 2011—almost a year and a half ago. At 2:13 a.m., the minute after her death, she had appeared at Lorelei’s bedside and said, “It’s all over, but not for you. I love you Lorelei. You’ve always been very special. I’m leaving you with something important. There will be those that really need your help. Don’t deny them. And don’t deny love.”

A lot of work? Definitely. But a well thought out character can actually help a writer develop a fascinating story!

The copyright of this article is owned by Lori Hines. Permission to republish  in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

One Reply to “Seven Ways to Create Strong Characters”

  1. Some good points above.

    Making interesting and realistic characters is something i have struggled with. At the beginning i didn’t want to give too much away about my protagonist. Since it was from his point of view it didn’t seem necessary to include a description of any physical attributes but rather they are something which can be inferred from his interaction with others. Then gave a bit more background at further points in the novel.

    That said, you can take the “show but don’t tell” approach too far and leave the reader confused. It’s not easy!

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