Robert Donaldson: Author

The Literary Works of Robert Donaldson

The Writing Life

Creating Characters for Your Story

One of the most important elements of fiction –whether short story or novel– is the characters. Every story needs characters –people to do things. A story without characters is no story at all. It is just empty exposition. The characters make to story move toward some resolution. Characters create the action that propels the story forward and piques interest.

Characters must, first of all, be believable. They should be someone the reader can relate to and care about. The characters in your story must act and react to events. That is, the characters must do something. While some stories are driven by plot, many writers prefer to create stories that are driven by character.

At some time during the planning stage of your novel, the writer must stop and think about the characters that will populate the story. A good example of characters is the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The Joads are in the middle of being evicted from the land they had farmed for generations.  All the characters in the story do and say things that reflect the circumstances that plagued thousands of families fleeing the Dust Bowl in the U.S. in 1930s.

As you start to create your characters, remember to make them real people. They might be like someone you know or have met in the past. Give your characters personalities. Give them quirks, idiosyncrasies and even make some of them a little “nuts,” if needed, to drive the story forward.

While making the story outline, many writers like to create character sketches to bring life to the players. The character outline can be as brief as a few paragraphs about the main and supporting character including protagonist, antagonist and others. On the other hand, some writers go into great detail about each character, including such items as date of birth, place of birth, occupation, hobbies, and physical characteristics and views on life.

I have included below a typical character outline that I often use as I plan my story.

Character Outline

1.  Protagonist: Physical characteristics, history, etc.

  1. What drives him/her?

2.  Antagonist: Physical characteristics, history, etc.

  1. What drives him/her?

3.  Supporting Characters

A. Physical characteristics, history, etc.

B. Physical characteristics, history, etc.

C. Physical characteristics, history, etc.

D. Motives

The fleshing out of your characters can be explored to whatever depth you choose. You might even go as far as to cut out photos from magazines to assign to each character. This way, you can have a face to place with each character as you write. This will help to give the character real physical attributes that you can emphasize within the story.

I like to think of character creation as the fun part of outlining a story. It’s when I let my mind run free, creating real people in my mind and who will be just as real to the reader.Website: Donaldson-Media

New York times Best Sellers.

1. Dark Witch (The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy)
    By Nora Roberts.


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