How to Create Characters in Novels

Creating believable characters in novels is crucial for a character driven plot. Without compelling characters, the story will cease to have life and the reader will not care about what happens at the end.


Developing Characters in Stories

A good story depends upon characters that appear to have a life of their own. The writer need not plan the story intricately, for the characters will drive the dialogue and the plot as though from a remote force. But the only way to create such characters is for the writer to delve deep within. 

Fictional Character Profile
For those who are unsure of where to start, making a character profile from a questionnaire will help. Things like age, sex, appearance, martial status and family background may kick start the creative process. Even small things like the character’s name can have a primary effect upon the sort of person the character might be and the inner drives that make them tick.

Character Driven Drama Scenes

Once such details have been sketched out, conceiving the character’s inner drives might become a little easier. This might involve relating one’s own drives and injecting it into the character’s psyche. Empathy with the character will make them feel more real and this will be reflected in the novel. A little knowledge of Freud’s ego states might come in useful.
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This means delving into one’s previous mental states throughout life and using this in the creative process. Past experiences such as leaving home or divorce might invoke feelings of alienation, insecurity or low self-esteem. These emotions can be isolated and transplanted into another situation the author may never have experienced, such as being arrested or being betrayed. Such emotions will drive a character to behave in interesting ways, such as having an insatiable desire to be successful or to take credit for someone else’s work.

Stereotypical Characters

With the main characters conceived, one might be tempted to draw up in haste the minor characters. This could inadvertently lead to stereotypes: the harried mother, the studious librarian, the bitchy hairdresser. If a character seems to pop into the head too readily, be suspicious that it might have been sourced from a previous film or book.

Creative Writing Tips on Characterisation

A solution might be to graft on an unexpected aspect to the stereotype, such as an unusual past, talent or secret For example the harried mother who has a talent for target shooting, the studious librarian who plays burlesque parts in pantomimes, the bitchy hairdresser who runs the London marathon for charity.

Making Characters Real

The reader is more likely to empathise with characters that feel real, whether they like to or not, and to care about what happens to them. Compelling characters are the key to a successful novel. Drawing up a character profile might get things started in conceiving the characters. Projecting one’s own fears and drives will help breathe life into the characters and this life force will be reflected within the novel.

© Rachel Shirley 2010