Creating Characters

I love creating characters.  This part of creative writing is one of my favorite activities, along with creating plot, and then creating the outline.

Whenever I begin a story, I usually have a visual of my main character and a slight idea of their nemesis or the counter character if a romance.  Generally, I see their goal and wound or flaw that drives the goal, and this goal becomes the driving force for the rest of the story’s development, both in plot and characterization.

Real relationships develop over time but in creating characters, I don’t have that kind of time.  I need to learn about them deeply and quickly.  So, I’ve learned to create character journals.

Starting with the main character, I write pages that are that character’s diary pages.  They’re simply recording on paper anything and everything they want to tell me.  I don’t care about what the character looks like, what their favorite ice cream flavor is, what they like to read, and other superficial characteristics.  Instead, I want to know if they were bullied, how they get along with others, what is their deep dark secret that they would be horrified if others know.  I want to know how they developed, emotionally.  What drives them to despair, what frustrates them, what gives them profound pleasure.

In the writing these pages, their voice appears before I’m at the end of the first page, especially in tone and sentence structure.  One may use flowery language, another speaks in short, choppy sentences, while another swears in every sentence.

I get to know these characters intimately, as if they are living with me.  Well, actually, they are:  in my head.

Early in my novel writing career, I discovered this method of creating characters for a romance I was writing.  In addition, I discovered this method by accident.

Because I was a journal writer myself, I thought, why not let my main characters write in their journals?

On this particular day, when both my hero and heroine had exhausted their thoughts on paper, each providing me with about four pages of single-spaced text, I had my daughter, who was in high school and good with English, read their journals.

When she was finished reading, she said, “Who wrote these, Mom?”

I replied, “I did.”

“No, who wrote these?”

I did.”

“No,” she said.  This time she spoke slowly, enunciating each word.  “Who.  Wrote.  These?”

I replied in like tone and enunciation.  “I.  Did.”

Exasperated, she said, “No, these were written by two different people.”

I grinned.

My characters were real.

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About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
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11 Responses to Creating Characters

  1. I have to have a photo that resembles how I picture my character in my head. But I need to get better about fleshing them out before I start. Now I have a few things defined but let them tell me their story as I write.


  2. That is the biggest compliment to write two distinct voices! 🙂


  3. That is the biggest compliment to hear you’ve written two distinct voices! 🙂


  4. I love it. I’ve debated doing the whole journal thing for my characters, but truth, they’ve been with me long enough that most of them don’t need it. That or I’m overly confident and should get myself together. =) Either way…

    What a compliment. I love that your daughter thought they were written by different people.


  5. Erika Beebe says:

    What a great technique for exploring character development! Great post too. Thank you and good luck with all your lovely characters and writing projects.


  6. Score!
    I read an article about having your characters talk about each other and that really helped with my fourth book.


  7. I love this, as I’m a long-time journaler too. I’ve had a few characters show up to write on one of my blogs. That was fun.


  8. mad_cat says:

    I’m an overly complex man, so when it comes time to designing my world (which I do think of as a character) and characters, I go through a rather complex process. But the results, get me a really fleshed out character. I’m still designing this, but I start off with a tarot reading to design their characters, I pick their date of birth, then explore all the gritty details of their life. I will tell you, about 90% of what i know of the character doesn’t make it into the story, but I know it, which is the most important.


  9. Debra says:

    I like that you probe so deeply into your characters, rather than just hit on their superficial characteristics. You have given me food for thought. I may not do the journal, but I will be adding more in depth information on my character cheat sheets. Thank you.


  10. jennienzor says:

    I love this idea. I’m with you, I’d rather know about the characters’ insides than the superficial stuff, unless the superficial stuff is a clue to the insides. How cool that your daughter thought you didn’t write it! That’s a sign of good writing! As I’m just starting a new project, I may have to borrow this idea. 🙂


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