Begin Writing Fiction by Shruti Chandra Gupta - HTML preview

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How to create powerful characters

Characters make a story what people make the world. They breathe life into an otherwise insipid environment. Powerful characters are always real, sometimes so real that you remember them as real people. How do you create such characters? What qualities should a character possess?

A character should have a history, even though you do not include it in your story.

Where does she study?
What qualities does she possess? Is she shy, naughty, talkative or stubborn? What dreams does she have?
Where does she live?
What kind of relationship does she share with her parents and siblings? How does she look as a child?

Develop your character from childhood to adulthood. Even if you don’t include every detail in your story, it is important that you know your character inside out. Believe me, it will show in your story. When I spend less time with a character, I am sure people will notice it. What I learnt when I tried to take the short cut is, you can’t!

Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Visualize her childhood in your mind. Once you have done that, move ahead and think of her as an adult. She can be anywhere between 18 and 26. The part of her life you are going to include in your story should be analyzed deeply.

How does she look? (Color of her hair, shape of her face, her height, her weight, the clothes she is wearing, color of her eyes)
In which profession is she?
Where does she live?
What qualities does she have? Only pronounced ones.
(bold, shy, courageous, ambitious, lazy, complacent, aggressive, optimist, emotional, practical, rude, devoted, envious, fearful, faithful, energetic, talkative, naïve, boastful, gullible, pedantic, extremely decorous, selfish, loner)
Are there any peculiarities in her? (Does she intensely hate injustice? Is she overtly duty-bound? Does she have any dark secrets? Did failure in love change her forever? Does she touch her nose often when speaking to strangers?)
What is her ambition?
What does she intensely love and hate?
How does she carry herself in public?
What are her beliefs?
How would you describe her in one word? (That will be her most prominent characteristic)

Once you have finished interviewing your character, you will be able to see her clearly.


Every character is born out of three sources:

1. From the writer’s imagination
2. From real life
3. From a combination of imagination and reality

If you have a fertile imagination, then you can create fantastic characters solely from it. But if what you are good at is observing people, then you can borrow your characters from real life. Maybe Uncle John is so obsessed with time that he even goes to the bathroom by consulting the clock. Find out peculiar personalities who can be turned into wonderful characters. If you can only think of one prominent characteristic in a person, weave a character around it by using your imagination. This is how you can do it.

A jealous girl you know can also be keeping a notebook with the names of all the girls whom she would like to leave behind. Sometimes, she makes maps of their houses, marking out loopholes so that she can steal the things she wants. One night, she even tiptoed out of her house and went to Martha’s to see whether they were awake or not. Can she turn into a murderer? Is she suffering from Impulse Control Disorder? The answer is ‘yes’ if what you want to write is a murder mystery.

Choose your words carefully when you are describing a character. Try to replace generalities into particulars. The above paragraph could have written this way too.

A girl, around 15 years of age, is intensely jealous. Her notebook has names of all those girls she would like to leave behind along with the maps of their houses from where she wants to steal things. One day, she even tiptoed out of her house at night and went to her friend’s house to see whether they were awake or not.

The second paragraph does not speak of the character. Instead, it speaks of the notebook, the houses, day, night and maps. If you want to highlight your character, fix the spotlight on her.

Another problem with the second paragraph is that the events are related, not shown. Your reader is screaming, ‘I don’t wan to know, I want to see’. Don’t relate events; show them through your character.

To ‘show’ your character to your readers, the only thing you need is details. That is why knowing your character is so vital.


“I will get out of the car right now if you don’t talk to me,” she said, her quiet voice quivering with anger.

From this dialogue, you get a sense of tension that the woman is in. You also know the place they are in, i.e. the car. You understand that the woman desperately wants to talk to the other person because she cares for him or her. You also know that she has a quiet voice, which means that she is a sober person. As the ‘quiet voice’ is put against ‘quivering with anger’, you can judge that she is restraining herself from demonstrating her emotions.

The mark of a good character is its voice. We are marked by our style. In turn, our style is marked by our preferences. A good character is so distinct in her behavior from other characters, that it becomes her style. The only characters you will remember after years of reading a book are those, which have their own individualistic style. That doesn’t mean you have to exaggerate their characteristics. Even a mostly passive character like Jane Eyre is still remembered for her strength in restraining herself. She is remembered because she fought with her desires. Conflict is like stones lying under a river. Without them, the river won’t gush furiously, creating sound and excitement for the beholder.

A good character should grow during the story. He should change after his experiences, either for the good or for the bad. Spiderman changed from an immature teenager to a mature and responsible individual. Jane Eyre changed from a rebellious child to a quiet and controlled woman. You must also have changed since you were a kid. Show that change through your story or save it for the end (depending upon the character).