Creating Characters That Leap Off the Page

Monique from Ask Amy Green – Intense Eyes!

 I know lots of you out there are very creative, so I thought I’d do another blog about writing. I hope you find it useful.

 Last month (goodness, doesn’t time fly) I talked about ideas and where they come from. This month I’ll talk about creating characters.

People are fascinating, aren’t they? They do the strangest things sometimes! And characters in books need to be even more fascinating than real people. They need to have BIG personalities. They need to be memorable. Of course like real people, they should have flaws, that’s what makes us (and them) human. And most importantly if you want to write a great story, the reader must connect with your main character or characters. She must care about your characters. She must want to know what happens to them next. She doesn’t have to like a character from the very start however, characters that are spiky and difficult (for a reason) often grow on us. Think of Tracy Beaker for example, she’s not always ‘easy’!

 So how do you go about creating interesting characters?

 Before I start writing a book, I think about my characters a lot. I grab a notebook and start jotting down notes about them, fleshing them out. I give them names, birthdays (have you noticed how few birthdays are mentioned in books – I don’t think some writers give their characters a birth date at all!); I jot down their hair colour, what type of clothes they like, their favourite colour/animal/food. All kinds of things.

 Sometimes if I’m finding it hard to picture a certain character I find a photograph of someone I don’t know (from a magazine or newspaper) and I base their ‘look’ on that. But I never use someone I know as I like to create a fictional person from scratch.

 To help picture Monique, Amy’s mum’s best friend in the Ask Amy Green series, I tore out this picture from a magazine (above). The woman’s dark bob and intense eyes are just perfect.

 And then I start to think about what motivates my characters – what do they want more than anything else in the world? To be famous? To be normal? To be noticed?

 Once I’m confident that I know a good bit about my characters, I start plotting or planning the story. And once I’m actually writing I start to learn more and more about my characters, and how they react in certain situations. But for me a story or book always starts with my main character or characters.

 What comes first for you? Your main character, or your plot? I’d be most interested to hear.

 Happy writing!

 Best, Sarah XXX

25 thoughts on “Creating Characters That Leap Off the Page

  1. Great post. I’m never sure where my characters come from. They just seem to grow, organically, in my head, as I write. I think for me the very basic story idea comes first and, once I start thinking about fleshing it out, the characters are just there. Perhaps I do have lots of little people living in my head.

  2. Brillent post! Very helpful and, i just want to say, I DO ALL OF THAT. 😀

    The thing that comes easyer for me is the plot really, if the story wants to be told, it fits the Characters, its all good and it writes itself.

    I put her in sticky situations and, all’s well.

    I write the story in a month or two. 🙂 I have pictures and i look at them for insperaion.

  3. I can never think of plots. That’s why I can never write stories for my characters. My mum’s trick (she has a BSc in Creative Writing) of “send the character to the shop for a loaf of bread/a pint of milk/a banana” doesn’t work for a lot of the characters I come up with – especially since my favourite is based on my sister and hence can’t go out unaccompanied.
    (My mum once wrote a sizeable short story from the “to the shop” idea, about two neighbours who have completely different early mornings then crash into each other when leaving the shop – one of them has a migraine and has gone to buy a banana to ease it, so she’s wearing dark glasses and doesn’t see the other character, who can’t get out of the way in time because he’s on crutches. No, they don’t fall for one another. My mum doesn’t write stuff like that. It’s the END of the story when they meet – the story is all about juxtaposing how the man has a nice relaxed morning, no rush, while the woman wakes up feeling terrible, finds there’s no bananas left and feels even worse… etc)

    • Your mum’s story sounds great. I find story easy to think up once I’m happy I know the characters really well before I start. I also plan my plots scene by scene – it means I don’t get stuck half way through a book. I don’t keep to the plan most of the time, but it keeps me going!

  4. Yep, for me, it’s always the character first. But I don’t really start my stories all the time with a character, sometimes I’m thinking of a setting, and a whole story line just comes flooding out of me!

  5. I always have the basic idea of the plot first. I don’t think of all the details, I don’t think of the ending.
    For example; this is what I would do first. First, I look around me. I listen. I learn. I see something that inspires me. I might see a person. A news article. A pair of socks! Something that just triggers something in my brain. Let’s say it was a pair of old pink boots from the 1940s. There’s this girl who finds them years later, a girl who struggles with confidence because she stands out, and she slowly pieces together the history of these pink boots and finds her blood grandmother. Then I develop my characters – I might see a girl, who has bright pink hair and a nose stud and think – EUREKA! I scribble it down in my notebook and start going into more detail. It doesn’t matter if its in the middle of the street or in a maths class. I have to do it.
    Characters are my favourite part of story. I get so close to them, as if they’re my best friends, worst enemies, mothers, fathers and siblings.
    Great post!!!

  6. I usually think of the plot and character at around the same time! I look at some one in the street and think, ”hmmm.. i wonder if they would like to…” and finish with a VERY unrealistic plot line, such as travel to Africa and pretend to live there, be a secret who nobody knows exists, own a pair of priceless yellow socks (that one isnt that unrealistic!). Then I take it further, i carry around a notebook and use real people, who I don’t know, as inspiration for the characters hair, clothing and personality!! Like Orli characters are my favourite parts of stories I read and write! I often use who I’d like to be and then sometimes, if I really hate life, I turn it round to look as though being as I wish I was is awful!!
    Brill post!!
    xx 🙂

  7. Great tips! Thanks! In English a few days ago, we were writing a story and we were told to fill in the questionaire of one of the characters. The questions were like; hair colour, temper on a scale of 1-10, favourite food, etc. It really helped me to plan out my story. Good post 😀

  8. That would be much better, to think about characters before writing the story! I usually just make it up as I go along… 🙂 I must start doing that though, it would probably improve my writing! Thank you for this post!

  9. For me, I have to come up with a plot first, and then I can figure out my characters.
    I have to know what kind of characters I need, how many, what they do, etc, before I can decide on WHO they will be. So, for me, I have to have a plot first.

  10. for me, i find that just randomly jotting things down works well. i just write and write and let it flow, and then voila! there’s your story, characters and all. and normally, my characters seem to write their own stories. it just happens. weird, huh?

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