How to Create Meaningful Characters in Novels and Short Stories
Tips on How to Create Descriptive Characters
Have you ever found yourself struggling to get into the mind of your main character? Do you have trouble writing character descriptions in your stories? Here are a few tips and exercises to help every writer succeed in creating meaningful characters in their stories.
Painting a Picture
"Once we know how the character views themselves, what their own self esteem is like, we can delve deeper into the emotions and feelings that our character might experience in different situations within our stories."
1. Visualizing Your Character
The first and most important thing you can do when creating characters is to get to know who they are. This doesn't just mean writing a story and knowing their role in the story you are writing; this also means paying careful attention to details, thinking about what your character may or may not do within the context of your story and outside of your own story.
The first step in this process is visualizing your character. I have been working on a novel on and off for the past several years, and one of my biggest issues was really visualizing my character. When we just describe characters in a generic sense, i.e., "Linda was tall and thin, with dark brown hair and blue eyes.", we are doing a disservice to our readers. There is so much more to your character than their physical features, and visualizing your character means so much more than just thinking about what they look like.
To truly visualize your character and think deeply about who they are, consider asking the following basic questions to get you started:
- What are some unique physical features that he/she has? (Birthmarks, scars, tattoos, etc.)
- Depending on the day, (and the weather), what might your character be seen wearing?
- When your character looks at themselves in the mirror, what do they see? How would they describe themselves?
- When other characters see your main character, how might they describe them?
The last of those few general questions are actually some of the most important. Once we know how the character views themselves, what their own self-esteem is like, we can delve deeper into the emotions and feelings that our character might experience in different situations within our stories. In addition, knowing how your other characters view your main character is essential in creating dynamic relationships among the characters in your short story or novel.
"Sometimes our characters often seem flat instead of being the dynamic heroes of our stories that we want them to be."
2. Know Their Personality Type
Oftentimes when we write stories, we don't even think about personality. We end up creating characters that are more like robots than actual people with feelings, emotions, and a wealth of attributes that make up who they are. Sometimes our characters often seem flat instead of being the dynamic heroes of our stories that we want them to be.
One of the most important things, next to visualizing your character, is to take a look at their personality. This includes things such as what they like, dislike, and how they might react in certain situations. Consider using the following exercises as springboards for getting to know the characters in your story.
What's in Their Pocket?
Imagine what your character might carry in their pocket. Try to come up with at least five things. Sketch it out or make a list. Then, think about the reasons why they might be carrying these items with them every day. (Example: She kept an old pocket watch with her that belonged to her grandfather, who passed away two years ago)
What Would Your M.C. Do?
Come up with a list of normal, everyday situations your main character might encounter, as well as some rare or difficult life situations that they might encounter. Write about what they might do in those particular situations. Here is a list of ideas to help you get started:
- Morning Routine
- A Day at the Park
- A First Date
- Getting Stuck in a Terrible Storm
A Few of Their Favorite Things...
Come up with a list of their favorite things. This could include hobbies, movies, music, and other interests. Try to make the list as varied as possible. Reflect on the list and see how any of these things might be incorporated into your story.
These are just a few exercises you can do to get to know your character's personality better in your story. There are many other types of brainstorming that you might do, or that you may have an idea for as you go through this process. Don't be afraid to keep that momentum going and really see where it takes you!
All About Feelings
"In order to understand the moods and emotions of our characters, we must first think about how they might react to certain situations."
3. Moods and Emotions
The last and most essential aspects of keeping in touch with your characters are their moods and emotions. So often, we write dialogue in stories where we are not really showing the reader how our characters react, but more telling them.
"I don't care what you think about it anymore!" Cindy said angrily.
When we directly identify emotions such as this example (she was angry), we aren't really painting a clear picture in our readers' minds. Readers might have questions like: What does Cindy look like when she is mad? Is she the type of person that yells? Does her face get red? Is she cool and calm even when she is angry? All of these questions are things that we, as writers, should include in the descriptions of our characters.
In order to understand the moods and emotions of our characters, we must first think about how they might react to certain situations. Here are some sample questions to help get you started:
- When they are angry, do they raise their voice?
- Are they the type of person to continue arguing or walk away from a fight?
- When they are nervous, does their face get red? Do they have sweaty palms?
In each situation you write about in your story, think about what your character's internal emotions might be in the story and try to convey that to your readers through showing, rather than telling. Here is a re-write of the example from above:
"I don't care what you think about it anymore!" Cindy huffed, stomping over to the door.
Here, we can clearly visualize that she is angry, without having to say "She was angry." These are the types of descriptions that your readers will connect with, engage with, and keep reading on for more.
Know Your Character's Heart and Soul
Creating meaningful characters in short stories and novels can be a tiresome process, but it is completely worth it. The characters that we read about in our most beloved books, such as Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, and many more, all have characters that we can relate to and engage with. Most readers were hooked on those stories because of the characters themselves.
This is why it is so important for us as authors to get to know our characters. As we are writing, we are creating more than just a story; our characters start becoming close friends of ours that we have never met, people we know so deeply, that we could write their entire life story. Those characters are the ones that make an impact on our readers.
As you continue to work on that short story or novel that you've put aside because of writer's block, consider using some of the exercises mentioned in this article to get your juices flowing. Knowing the physical, personal, and mental traits of your characters is the best way to make the stories you write meaningful and engaging, and hopefully, create a good fan base for your work.
© 2018 Anne Marie Carr