Creating Convincing Characters

Happy Labor Day!

Today is a list from The Writer (July 2006) that quickly describes how to create convincing characters by Corey Blake. Blake begins the article, Creating believable characters takes time and discipline. Creating dynamically real individuals and not imposing your own thoughts and impressions on them is not easy to do, and is often the difference between a novel or screenplay that sits in a closet and one that finds its way into the hands of audiences.

  1. Label the desire essences of your main characters. Come up with lists of desires, fifty of them, and slowly condense them into twenty. Focus on the ones that feel right for each of your main characters, considering their religious beliefs, major life events, appearance, intelligence, siblings, education, parents, music, sex, etc, anything and everything a person in real life faces.
  2. Label the fear essences of your main characters. This is a little easier now that you’ve come up with the desire essences. The fear essences are the “polar opposites” of the desires. They battle the desires, and at each decision, either the desire or the fear will win. Make the pairs, and discard the pairs the character doesn’t feel strongly about. Keep doing this until you have 10 pairs that excite you.
  3. Get specific in the backstory to understand how these essences came to be. As Blake says, “A character’s current behavior is a battle between fear adn desire, and his or her immediate choices are made based on very specific (yet unconscious) experiences from the past–experiences that leave imprints.” Write as much as you can about each half of each pair, so you have pages and pages on the character describing how they think or would think in a given situation because you know the history behind that certain essence.
  4. Describe their current behaviors. Take the essences and specific examples and determined the kinds of behavior your character has because of it.
  5. Raise the stakes. Don’t be afraid to throw horrible obstacles at your characters! Watching them deal with obstacles is what makes a story interesting; no one wants to read about a girl who sails through life.
  6. Don’t meddle. A “truthful story is going to grow from your willingness to let your characters make their own decisions based on how you defined them. As their parent, you have to let your children go.”
  7. Let your characters play. At this point, your characters will be writing themselves.