Building Characters From The Ground Up- Part 1

When I pick up a book, I look forward to becoming good friends with the characters in that novel. For myself, the characters are what draws me into the book, more so than plot. I want to feel what they feel and be excited for them, or sad or even worried for them.

I hope that when I write, my characters come across the same way. But they won’t unless I take the time to thoroughly develop them for my story.

This is the first post of a series of posts I have planned this week. These posts are going to be a step by step structure of how I develop my characters. I have borrowed a lot of these ideas from various writing resources (Two of which you can read about here and here).

When we reflect on who we are as individuals, we can see how there are a number of factors have helped form us into who we are. Our personalities play one of the largest roles, but that is tempered by our preferences for things, events that have happened to us, our family life growing up, and our beliefs. Because characters, at their core, are humans (for lack of better phrasing, but even in novels with animals or other creatures, we still give them humanistic qualities), I try to develop them in a complex, but meaningful way.

Before I move into my process too much, when I start to develop my characters, I tend to have some idea of the story that I am going to put them in. My planning process is very entwined. Very rarely am I able to isolate my story from my characters and vise versa. That does allow me to use my characters to help fill in plot holes, or sometimes something I need in my plot is fodder for developing my character’s history. I also disdain character charts that ask questions such as:

  • What street does your character live on?
  • What is their favorite color?
  • Tell about a childhood pet.
  • etc.

I’ve always found these to be somewhat less than helpful. Some of the best advice on characters is Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, but I don’t think questions like the above are what he had in mind. Sure they are helpful to know, but I also think they are the kinds of things you can think of when you need to and if they are necessary, and generally I find them a waste of time. I think Hemingway thought we should know what really makes are characters the way they are.

I need to develop my heroine for the novel I am starting to work on. I know some bare-bone information about her, but I am inviting you to come along with me to see my process. I don’t think I have the best technique available, but I do think it is the best for myself. As I said above, my process has come from a myriad of different sources that I have come across and borrowed from. So, you might not find everything I have to say as helpful, but you might find some parts that you might want to add to your own repertoire of writing tools.


2 thoughts on “Building Characters From The Ground Up- Part 1

  1. I completely relate to what you said about wanting to become friends with the characters. If I don’t care about the people, there really isn’t much point to reading their story. I get far too attached to fictional characters, especially the ones I’m writing myself.
    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your posts in this series. Thanks for sharing your tips with us!


    1. Thanks for the comment and the follow!

      I always feel like the characters are what draws a reader in. I can read a story with a ridiculously boring plot as long as the characters are engaging.


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