5 Ways To Build A Character #amwriting

Okay, most important way to build a character is to NOT PUT EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT THE CHARACTER INTO THE WORK, right? Right.

Now. I favor building a character from the ground up, not from my brain down. By that, I mean that I like to write for a while and then stop and think about who I’m writing about and where the story is going. It’s like being in church and singing the bare bones of a song and then Amber, who can actually sing, comes in and puts in all the twiddly bits.

5 Ways To Build A Character

a.k.a. putting in the twiddly bits

1) When and how did the character arrive on the scene of the story?

Generally: Was she born where the story takes place? Did he crash from another planet? Did they immigrate from a different/the same part of the world as their neighbors?

Specifically: Why is she in this particular setting at this particular time? Was she summoned here at this time by a mysterious message? Is it his job to be here now?

2) What’s the character’s attitude toward the setting?

Generally: How does the character feel about the world, country, town, neighborhood, time of year, climate?

Specifically: How does the character feel and what does the character notice about the specific place and time and other people in each scene of the work?

3) What’s the character’s attitude toward self?

Generally: Is the character self-conscious? Does she see herself in a particular way? Does she think other people see her in that way or does she think other people see her differently than she “really” is? Does he deliberately try to project a certain persona?

Specifically: How does the current setting and the present company challenge or reinforce the character’s self-image? Does the adult revert to childhood habits in a place and in company from the personal past?

4) How does the character talk?

Generally: No matter what the character’s level of education, does the character use good grammar and pronunciation? How large is the character’s vocabulary? Does the character use poor grammar and local slang artificially, to fit in where she doesn’t really belong, or deliberately, to fit in where she does belong, or ironically?

Specifically: Does the character talk differently in different company or different situations (as most of us do) and, if so, does this situation/company call for a shift? Does the character tend to pick up phrases and usages from the people around her? Does he mock vocabulary and patterns different from his own? How do the character’s speech habits strike the others in the scenes?

5) How wide is the character’s circle of acceptance?

Generally: Does she make friends easily? Are these really just amiable acquaintances, or are are these strong links? Does she make snap judgments based on categories (can’t be friends with member of a different political party, particular nationality, fan of a certain kind of music), or is she open to anybody? What’s a deal-breaker in a possible friendship?

Specifically: What is the character’s emotional connection (if any) to other people in the scene (living or dead – or undead, if it’s that kind of story)? What emotional connection is he disposed to forming, or does he hope will develop or does he fear might develop?

MOST IMPORTANT: If any of these elements will make the story better, include them as needed. If they’ll only clutter things up, leave them out, but let them inform how you have the character behave and speak.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Put a character who uses situational speech patterns into a situation containing members of vastly different groups — say, a task force consisting of the character’s neighborhood friends and the character’s spouse’s employers.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “5 Ways To Build A Character #amwriting

  1. Jane

    January 5, 2015 at 9:40am

    Tough writing prompt. Who can’t visualize this one playing out in some sly ways?

    I think your character remarks are useful at any stage of a project. I find it helps a great deal of you keep on asking why your character is where they are now. Why would they stay? If on Dark Shadows: Why havne’t they killed this guy yet? 😉

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 5, 2015 at 4:41pm

      True on all points, Jane. Everybody in a story has a reason for being where they are and doing what they’re doing. Unlike real life, where we don’t, always. heh

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  2. Mitch Mitchell

    January 11, 2015 at 12:57pm

    That’s pretty comprehensive I must say. That’s probably why I’m better at nonfiction than I am at fiction. For the story I’ve been working on since forever I put together my bio for my main character but no one else. I have met people who write full biographies for every character they’re ready to introduce. Lots to think about that’s for sure.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      January 11, 2015 at 10:06pm

      How much bio I do for each character depends on how big the project is, how important the character is, and how lazy I am when I write the story. heh

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