Creative Writing Workshop: Creating Credible Characters

Posted at 12:22pm on 27th July 2019

When we looked at the issue of Crafting Character in the last Creative Writing Workshop, I said that Characters – whether in fiction or true-life stories – need:

  • Credibility – to be true to life
  • Creativity – in the way they respond to conflict
  • Complexity – the depth which makes them three dimensional

So let’s look at the first of these attributes.  What makes a character credible?

CREDIBILITY

  1. Physical attributes
  2. Historical perspective
  3. Personality traits

Every thought your characters have, every word they speak and every action they take, will be determined by the three qualities we’ve identified above. This means that even though you will use only a fraction of the details you accumulate about them, you do need to know them through and through.  More of this later.

In order to compile a profile of each character, it’s not a bad idea to use a large sheet of paper (or an Excel Worksheet on your computer).  You could even sketch an outline drawing if that helps, and colour in some of the features.  It doesn’t have to be a work of art!  Simply a visual reminder to you so that you don’t make the mistake, half way through the book, of reducing your character’s height by four inches, or have the blue eyes of page four become the brown eyes of page 104.  Below are some of the features you may want to identify.  You can add more as needed.

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES

  1. Colouring – eyes, skin, hair
  2. Facial shape – chisel jaw, square, round, long, heart-shaped
  3. Eye shape / quality – narrow, round, large, luminous, blank, dull, kindly
  4. Mouth – mobile, thin-lipped, mean, generous, smiling, pursed, laughing
  5. Build – height & weight, stocky, athletic, petite, voluptuous, lean, flabby, thin, tall, angular, short, muscular
  6. Posture – graceful, wears clothes well, slumped, dejected
  7. Movement – graceful, lithe, sexy, provocative, cramped, painful, arthritic, creepy
  8. Speech – guttural, mellifluous, upper-crust, quiet, loud-mouthed, coarse
  9. Dexterity – clumsy, creative, skilled in arts / gardening / building / cooking / home-making
  10. Hearing – musical, tone-deaf, hard-of-hearing

HISTORICAL ASPECTS

  1. Ethnicity – Asian, European, African
  2. Birth place – including national / regional culture, and dialects
  3. Date of birth – including political and socio-economic background and trends of the period – i.e. coronation, war, depression
  4. Christian name(s) and surname
  5. Family / parents – including socio-economic attributes & attainments
  6. Siblings – brothers, sisters, place in family – singleton, eldest, middle child, youngest - read some of my earlier posts on how personality is affected by status
  7. Extended family – cousins, aunts, close-knit, independent, fostered, adopted, stepfamily
  8. Education – achievements and aspirations
  9. Faith – Practising Christian, Jew, Muslim, other, atheist, agnostic
  10. Town or country childhood
  11. Occupation – labourer, professional, businessman, entrepreneur, salesman, retailer, medic, educationalist, religious leader, politician, farmer
  12. Marital status – single, married, divorced, remarried, widowed
  13. Offspring – gender, ages, involvement with, separated from, step-family
  14. Home – town or country, flat or house
  15. Friendships – lifelong, shallow, close, formal
  16. Interests – sport / golf / tennis / cricket; / arts / opera / ballet / theatre / books; walking; Bridge; stamp-collecting; gardening

PERSONALITY TRAITS: CREATIVE & COMPLEX

The first two listed below are extrovert personalities.  They veer towards an outgoing, energetic outlook on life.  Nos. 3 and 4 are introvert personalities.  They tend to be more reflective and reserved.

  1. Choleric – Independent, self-sufficient, aggressive, intense, strong-willed, decisive, outspoken, hard-working, impatient, bossy, possessive, sly, exploitative
  2. Sanguine – Life and soul of the party, likeable, charming, humorous, needs to be popular, creative, energetic, enthuses others, self-centred, naïve, loud, lacks dedication/responsibility
  3. Phlegmatic – Kind, calm, good listener, loyal, reliable, patient, diplomatic, passive, dislikes change, judgemental, undemonstrative, slow
  4. Melancholic – Serious, perfectionist, conscientious, consistent, arty, creative, neat, anti-social, negative, depressive, lacks self-esteem, gloomy

Take a look at my Personality Test (button top right) to learn more about yourself, your friends and family, and the Characters you are going to be creating. 

HOMEWORK

Create two or three composite, but credible, characters from the lists above.

NEXT TIME:  We’ll be looking at Character Creativity, Character Complexity, and finally Conflict – putting together the Plot, Theme and Characters.

The author of numerous articles, blogs and books, one a Sunday Times No. 4 Bestseller, another No. 1 in its category on Amazon, Mel is also an experienced Speaker and has addressed live audiences of between 20 and 1,500, in addition to participating in TV and Radio chat shows.

 

 

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