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From The Blog: Creating Characters That Stand Out!

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One of the most important parts of any narrative are the characters and how they relate to each other. But sometimes, when it comes to writing characters different from ourselves we end up stumped. Here’s an exercise created by YWP Participant Natalie Gertsenberger to help you out!

As writers, we all know what makes each of our stories unique. We know what makes them stand out. What makes them different. But in general with any novel, the characters are the center of our story. The heart of it all. Characters are who we relate to, they are the people that take us into their world, and bring us along for the ride. Let’s face it—the reason we read is because we want to experience the impossible. And we can’t do that without our beloved characters.

Characters are like our friends. If you’ve ever noticed, our friends are more often than not, the polar opposites of ourselves. But you know what? It works. And that is the key to creating diverse, multi-dimensional characters.

When you create your characters, strive to create personalities that your readers will remember long after they’ve finished your book. When creating your characters (and this applies to your protagonist, antagonist, side characters, and supporting characters) it is best to create characters that are not like yourself.

Characters that are not like ourselves are often the most interesting—not only to read about, but also to write. When we read we become attached to our characters both because of their personality and because of the conflict they face. A character's conflict can have to do with many different things, but often arises from something that sets them apart from the norm of their world. This is what gets us intrigued.

So when you're creating some new characters, try making them as different from yourself as possible, and you may find that it works out better than you would have thought.

Character-Creating Exercise:

  • Make a list of five of your favorite characters from some books you’ve read and loved.
  • Pick three things from each of those characters that makes them stand out, causes them to face lots of conflict, or makes them different from yourself. Write these things down. (They could be anything: a disability, a personality trait, clothing choice, special powers, etc.)
  • Choose some of the characteristics that you pulled from different characters and put them together. Now write a character profile for a new character using these traits, and give them a name.

Congratulations! You now have a new character! As you continue to build your character, ask yourself these questions:

  • How are this character’s experiences different than mine? What research can I do to make sure I’m portraying these experiences as authentically and respectfully as possible?
  • Are there any experiences that this character and I have shared?
  • Why does this character stand out in the world they live in?
  • What challenges does this character face, either from external or internal conflicts?

By answering these questions, you may find that you can begin to work in other important character factors such as conflict and backstory, which will hopefully lead to an amazing plot and more diverse characters!

Keep these questions in mind when you are sitting down to write. The goal is to give both yourself and your readers a glimpse into another life, to make these characters as real and well-rounded as possible. We want to fight with these characters and help them achieve their goals!

Try to write like a reader. Think about what attaches you to characters, and write in a way that will get others attached to your characters.

Now, what are you waiting for…? GO WRITE!

Natalie is a serious writer who loves to experiment with many different ideas, and feels a strong connection to her characters. She loves to read, write, and doodle. She may or may not know how to unicycle and plans on being an editor when she gets older. She loves the feel of fall and you can usually find her wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket by the fireplace in her home in the East North Central part of the Midwestern United States.  

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