Posted by: Phil Anderson | June 3, 2013

Creating People

Every good piece of fiction needs characters. The best characters are the ones that feel real. The reader can understand them, relate to them, and empathize with them. They have personality. They grow and change, but still have a consistentcy to their personality and who they are. Where do these characters come from?

Most of my characters develop from the narrative they’re in. I have a story that I want to tell, and I create the type of character that would best be able to tell that story. When I wrote Pirate Journey, I never considered making the protagonist a girl because the historical parts wouldn’t work that way. For a while I thought that David was going to be a victim of pirates in the past and bullies in the present, but that David was too reactive and didn’t initiate anything. When I made him both a bully and a pirate, he became the active force, moving the plot forward rather than solely being subject to the influences of others.

My choice of characters is also affected by other characters. I try to have variety, so that there’s some inherent conflict or at least intersting interaction. If every character has the same response to an event, they are redundant and unnecessary.

After I have the basics of a character down, I try to flesh them out to give them depth and make them more real. Some of my characters are based on people I know. None completely lifted from a real person, but maybe a name or part of their personality or a physical trait. My imagination is limited by my experience; the people around me are much more individual, diverse, and interesting than whatever can be found solely inside my head.

Charcters also grow and develop during the course of writing. If I need a character to react a certain way and I want to make it believable, I need to know why they have that reaction. Maybe there’s something in their past that causes them to respond that way. That prior event then may affect other responses, or decisions, or even part of their physical appearance. Their history, their family and friends, and their nationality or ethnicity influence who they are.

Another way to develop a character and expand their versimilitude is to extrapolate from existing characteristics. I find even in real life that a person’s best and worst traits are very similar. A person who is laid-back and easygoing often lacks initiative. Someone who demonstrates persistence and stick-to-it-iveness can be very stubborn. Those who act or speak impulsively and without thinking tend to be optimistic and assume the best of others and of the future. A perfectionist who cares deeply about quality might be easily frustrated by those around her.

There are many other things that go into creating people, and I try to make each one different. But despite my attempts at variety and diversity, I inevitably find a little bit of myself in every one of my characters. So if you want to know who I am, look at the people I’ve created.


  1. […] Last week I wrote about my characters and where they come from. My friend Andrew asked, “Do you find yourself inadvertently duplicating characters (especially favorite archetypes)?” It’s a very good question, and it would seem very likely that my characters would easily fall into comfortable patterns. But I looked over my pantheon of created people and tried to evaluate them honestly, and I didn’t find many that I would consider duplicates. […]

  2. […] written previously about creating characters, and more specifically about creating villains, but that’s just one step in the writing […]

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