How to Create Meaningful Characters in Novels and Short Stories

Updated on December 1, 2018
Anne Carr profile image

Anne is a writer and teacher with an interest in creative writing. She has helped many young writers develop their writing skills.

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

The first step in creating meaningful characters is visualizing them.
The first step in creating meaningful characters is visualizing them.

"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? (Birth marks, 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

Understanding the moods and emotions of your characters will help you to write about their experiences as if you were in their shoes.
Understanding the moods and emotions of your characters will help you to write about their experiences as if you were in their shoes.

"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.

Example:

"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

Meaningful characters are the ones that we know deeply.
Meaningful characters are the ones that we know deeply.

Final Thoughts

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.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Anne Carr profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Marie Carr 

      3 weeks ago from Richmond, VA

      Thank you! Same here, Hoping to keep the momentum going on here! Good luck to you as well!

    • profile image

      Meridith McCumber 

      3 weeks ago

      Hey i really loved your article! I'm a writer as well and am new to hubpages.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hobbylark.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hobbylark.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)