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Building Character

Guest Blogger: Morgan L. Busse

Photo by Tom Pickering http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mrsmas

Photo by Tom Pickering

Characters can be tricky to build. I found it took weeks or even months for me to fully find myself inside a character’s head. But with deadlines now looming on the horizon, I do not have the luxury of letting characters simmer until well done. I need to know them now.

I’ve been busy the last few weeks nailing down the tweaks on a couple characters. And since I have this milling around inside my mind, I thought I would share the questions/method I have been using.

  1. Name. Even though I write fantasy, I like names that are familiar yet different and pronounceable.
  2. Age. Obvious one, how old is the character?
  3. Race. Irish? Jewish? Alien? Hobbit? What race is this character?
  4. Core Personality. This is really the skeleton by which every other part of my character hangs on. I use a combo between Meyers-Briggs and DISC. Is the character an introvert or an extrovert? High paced or slow paced? Methodical or a dreamer? Whatever the core is, the character’s personality will color every other part of his or her being.
  5. Physical appearance. Hair color? Length? Eye color? Skin? Body build? I usually go into great detail (just for my info) even going as far as eyesight and perhaps a sense more attuned than the others.
  6. Birth order. Family is important and greatly influences for good or bad. Is this an only child? Siblings? Good home? Bad home? Left at the orphanage? What does my character think of his/her parents?
  7. Culture. How has culture influenced my character? Is she from a tribal situation? Is he from the Depression Era? Is she technology savvy and knows how to text, twitter, e-mail, and Facebook all at the same time? What is important to that culture? Are there taboos? Does he/she fit in?
  8. Religion. Christian? Atheist? Muslim? How devoted is the character?
  9. Embracing God’s Approval. How does the character see his/her self? How do they think God sees them?
  10. What is likable about this character? Sometimes this can be a hard one for me, especially if I am dealing with a logical bookworm. Why would others like this character?
  11. How do others perceive this character? This is where I take all the other main characters and write out how they perceive this character. I also write out how this character would be perceived if met on the street. What are the first impressions?
  12. Manner and topic of speech. Accent? Use big words? Proper or slang?
  13. Inner journey. What is internal knot that is tripping this character up at the beginning of the book? Why is it harmful? What will happen if the character never changes? Does the character change? What causes the character to finally deal with it?

I hope these questions help you discover your characters beyond surfer dude, high school jock, timid housewife, or evil dictator. And to give credit where credit is due, I first heard these questions during a science fiction and fantasy writing track taught by Jeff Gerke at the 2010 Mount Hermon Writing Conference.

Author Morgan L. BusseMorgan L. Busse writes stories about hope. She believes that in the dark times of life, there is light and draws on her own life’s experiences. Morgan lives in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She is the author of Daughter of Light, the first in a series from Marcher Lord Press. Visit Morgan at http://www.morganlbusse.com.


One comment on “Building Character

  1. I use a similar list when I started to think about characters, but you’ve pointed out a few gaps in my characters that I definitely need to think about.(luckily I’m not far in the process yet so I’ve caught this at a good time!).

    I’d considered their Personality, name, age, description and, most importantly, the journey that they would be taking, but your comment about how they are considered by the other characters has really made me think. Now you’ve said it, I’ve suddenly got a light bulb – one character in a vacuum is very difficult to get people to like, you need interplay, relationships and the like, to get people interested. I’d been focussing on the characters too much as individuals, and not as parts of a group.

    So that’s my consideration for the next few weeks, I need to work out how my characters see each other, how they interact, how their relationships change with their journeys, and about a billion other considerations!

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