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Using them, making them, voicing them

   Hey, it's me, bloedzuigerbloed! Some of you may be familiar with my "Improve Your Writing! Tips and Techniques" journal. While that (excessively long) journal covered many topics, it's time to add a bit more onto each of those by giving the important ones their own tutorial.

CAUTION: Before you proceed, I warn you, I am not a professional artist or author, and all I’m going by here is what I am assuming works best because it works best for me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t get angry with me. This is a disclaimer.

    [Keep in mind: This tutorial is especially helpful for realistic fiction, so some things I suggest may not apply to you depending on the genre in which you specialize.]

   In this journal, I hope to cover the topics:

  1. The field of character-mastering

  2. Creating a personality

  3. Character traits

  4. Naming your character

  5. Character backgrounds

  6. Steer clear of...

  7. Using your character

  8. Voicing your character (Dialogue and the voice of character actions)

  9. Q & A

   While you may not find this of any use, I dearly hope you will take away at least a small amount of enlightenment after reading and I encourage you share your knowledge with others.

1) The Field of Character-Mastering

   You have decided to embark on a dangerous mission: to write. It is not a calm sea out there. There are plenty of sharks and whirlpools ready to devour you whole and you may not make it. The most important thing to remember is that to be successful, you must create a text, be it a novel, script, or short story, that your audience will enjoy. You need to take a crowbar, pry open your audience's ear, and climb right into their head. Capture their attention, their awe, their love. All with the art of words.

  Now, grasshopper, what engages an audience? Plot, diction, writing style, are all well and good, plot being one of the most important, but what do you look for when you read a fictional piece? The characters. The chess pieces whose actions will cause the plot of the story to arise. The people (or, in some cases, not people) you will be spending the rest of the book with. Their story is the point of the story. Their personalities will be there right along with you until you put your writing project down, and even after that. So you need to perfect them to the best of your ability. You need to be happy with how they turned out, be they likable, unlikable, or somewhere in a grey area.

   So now I ask you to put in immense effort. Even if it's not your masterpiece, there isn't anything you can create that doesn't deserve effort.

2) Creating a Personality

:-?    What is a dry character?

   There's nothing an avid reader hates more than a dry character. Your "Average Joe," if you will. Average Joe is the character of my pretend novel, "Average Joe's Life." Allow me to paint you a picture of Average Joe.

Average Joe is 5' 7". He has brown hair and blue eyes. He likes watching sports with his friends. He thinks his high school is so totally lame. He hates homework. He has a girlfriend named Average Jane. Average Jane likes to party with her BFFs, gossip, and do her nails. Average Jane would describe Average Joe as, 'sweet, funny, smart, sensitive, hot, sporty.' Average Joe would describe Average Jane as 'kind, sweet, funny, smart, pretty, giggly, a gossip girl.'

   Alright, tell me, what do you think about Average Joe and Average Jane? It's alright, be honest, it's a pretend novel, remember. Not too unique? I can see that, yes. Average Joe has a lot of the traits you would find "common" if you took a survey of 100 high schools.

    Common isn't bad.

    You can have a character like Average Joe if it pleases you, but Average Joe is a dry character.

    What does this mean?

   Imagine you're trying to mention this book to someone, but you've forgotten the title. So you, obviously, start describing characters. How many books would the person you're talking to reel off before they guessed the right one? Too many. Average Joe is dry because he's overdone. Cliche, if you will.

   Now, why else is this character dry? He doesn't do anything. He has nothing remarkable about him, he doesn't go out of his way to start something that will prompt an interesting plot, he obviously doesn't overachieve in much, and he's averagely likable.

    There is no reason for anyone to be antagonistic towards him (unless the passage made you hate Joe and Jane so much you tracked them down and killed them). So there's really no interesting story to be built around him.

   Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't use a boring character. Boring characters are incredibly useful in:

:bulletred: Comedy (A boring character plunged into an intense plot is comedic. Average Joe could meet a spy and be the star of an action-rich [and funny] plot.)
:bulletyellow: Self-realization
:bulletblue: Pretty much any story where a side character is intentionally boring (comic relief, or that’s just their personality)

   Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [here is the IMDb page if you haven’t heard of it, and the novel on Amazon] was a "boring character" in the sense that he was not a risk taker or anything more than average, but it worked as an incredibly powerful comedic device and in his self-realization. (He’s a great character. Don’t forget that.)

And that sums up characters with dry personalities. You can use them, but you need to know how to use them first. Now…

    Say you want to have a character who is not dry or boring at all...

:-?    How do I make a character with a noticeable and memorable personality?


Or watch TV. Either one works.

What's been done? What's been overdone? What hasn't been done at all? What do you remember taking away from a certain text? What characters have you taken notice of? Why are their personalities so memorable and noticeable? Why are they unique? Describe your favorite character ever. Why are they so memorable?

    And so on. Allow yourself to ask questions about what makes a character what you want them to be.

    Try to embrace what makes you unique, for the sole reason that you know nobody else as well as you know yourself. You can’t make assumptions about what makes other people unique, so find what sets you apart. Little quirks, interesting stories of your childhood, fun facts about you. Is your sense of humor significantly different from everyone else’s, perhaps? Integrate what you see into your characters. Figure out how to make them memorable.

    BE CAUTIONED. Don’t make your character too strange unless their eccentricity has a purpose or enhances the text. If it doesn’t do anything and you’re just doing it for the sake of doing it, you won’t be making a successfully memorable character. You can have a good memorable character without making them cringeworthily… well… different.

    Differences should be embraced. At all times. You should love being different. Not just another face in the crowd. But if it has no point in the plot, don’t give your character, for example, special supernatural skills.

     However, if your character, say, is an alien crash-landed on Earth and needs to fight evil for the plot, by all means, go ahead. Make them as strange and different as the plot necessitates. And be sure to have fun with it.

:-?    How do I make a realistic character?

Making a character’s personality realistic is as easy as one, two, observation.

In order to make a character convincingly real, you need to balance the common traits displayed by Average Joe and Average Jane with the inclusion of the memorable little quirks we talked about in the above section.

Now how to do that? Observation. Watch people interact. How do they speak? Take note of body language [to make sure you describe your characters actions as realistically as possible]. How would you describe their personalities?

Here are some things you might want to try for a successfully realistic character:

  1. Learn about people’s backstories. How does that affect who they are now? How can you use realistic backstories for your character to shape their personality?

  2. Do research about the time period and place in which your story is set to make sure you’re as accurate as possible. (Be prepared to research A LOT if you want to be extremely accurate.) Look up the customs of the setting, and have it apply to your character in realistically moderate ways. Make the reader feel like they’re reading a nonfiction retelling!

  3. Model them after real people. Some of the characters in my writing are modeled after people I knew or have met who struck me as story-worthy. This helps make them seem like real people because they essentially are.

  4. Spend a lot of time with them. Carry a pocket-version of your character in your head. React how they would react. Notice what they would notice. Make the connections they would make. Do this until you know your character like an old friend. Know the ins and outs of their mind down to the punctuation mark and use that to help with your writing.

  5. Reference real events and places. If your character was in a war, be specific about which war, and then refer to tip #2 to gather facts on it. Be accurate. Be realistic.

3) Character Traits

Here we learn about character strengths, flaws, and what makes them who they are. (It’s a little different than the above section, so it gets its own. It’s relatively short, I promise.)

:-?    What are character strengths?

Strengths can appear in characters in multiple ways. They can be talents, ways your character is unique, good parts of their personality, or simply things your character doesn’t absolutely suck at.

Character strengths can be a pivotal point in the story (as I will demonstrate with character flaws) and often determine in which direction a plot will fall.

Here’s an example: Let’s say one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Cumference (nice play on words there, eh?), as we’ll refer to him, was very large indeed. His armor was specially fitted and he switched horses every now and then to give them a break from carrying him. As a result of his monstrous girth, Sir Cumference was self-conscious and shy. However, he was naturally altruistically inclined. Sir Prise, a cautious, jumpy, little knight, was captured in a battle with a dragon and kept under close watch in a cave, where he would eventually be roasted and eaten. Sir Cumference was not a very brave knight, but he knew he had to rescue Sir Prise from the dragon’s clutches, and traveled by himself to the dragon’s lair. There he stood face-to-face with a gigantic fire-breathing lizard beast.

Will Sir Cumference...

A) Turn and run because he is shy and cowardly


B) Fight the dragon and rescue his friend because he is altruistically inclined?

In most stories, you’ll notice, the author will pick B. Our character’s strength allowed the story to reach an interesting climax and then resolve rather than his weakness.

So how important are strengths? Very important. If Sir Cumference was not so eager to help, he would most certainly turn and run the first chance he got. The story would reach an end before any sort of climax, leaving the reader disappointed and the plot dead.

    But when does option A work? Sir Cumference running away could work in a number of situations, as such a simple plot as this needs come complexity to keep the reader engaged. More plot bumps up and down following his escape of danger would create a more interesting story with an ending no one suspected at all.

    Here, the weakness makes the story interesting rather than his predictable strength, which is what most people prefer to see.

:-?     How do I flaw my character?

Character flaws are much more important than they are first presumed to be. An example of how important these simple flaws are is the Mary Sue. I won’t go in-depth here, because Mary Sues will be addressed later on in the “Steer Clear of...” section, but they are essentially real-life Barbies. They live in a dream, their bodies are flawless, their personalities are ‘ideal,’ they have countless friends, and they can do absolutely nothing wrong. Would you want to read a book about a character who fixes everything and everybody loves? I didn’t think so. There needs to be conflict. There need to be people who don’t like your character that much. Your character has to mess up something or other. That’s just the way things are in the Real World.

So you don’t like the idea of a Mary Sue? (If you still think a flawless character is the way to go, just keep reading. Perhaps the “Steer clear of…” section will change your mind.) Excellent. And you’re wondering how to tweak your character’s personality until they’re more flawed? Then get out a quill and ink and dive straight into your story.

Find one instance in which your character is unrealistically awesome.

    Perhaps this is when they solve and incredibly difficult math problem in their head and the classroom erupts in applause.

The next step is to make your character not so perfect. In this case, an example of what you could do is have them get stuck on a component of the problem. Perhaps they work on it for days to no avail, and then finally get it after work and perseverance. Here, you can obviously see flawing does not necessarily mean failure. They are flawed, as all humans are, because they couldn’t solve a difficult problem in the blink of an eye, but they did not fail. This still doesn’t mean your character should always succeed, but success is not always immediate.

Lather, rinse, repeat. You don’t have to get rid of all their triumphs, but doing this a few times throughout your story will definitely help get rid of some of that excess perfectness.

Realistic people are realistically flawed, and it usually bothers us when they’re not. That’s why the ‘Mr Perfect’ is usually the antagonist. Have fun with flaws, and remember, to err is human.

:-?     What makes my character who they are? (And how can I use that in my story?)

    In the case of Sir Cumference, he acted the way he did because of his traits, good and bad. Your character will have the same situation at some point in the book, where what they do is a pivotal point, and it is determined by their traits.

Referring to the parts: “How do I make a character with a noticeable and memorable personality?” from the “Creating a Personality” section and the character strengths and flaws parts above, you can plug in your character’s traits, flaws, and personality to determine how they would act in a given situation. Like trying different settings on the same program. You need to know how your character thinks in order to determine how they will act.

4) Naming your character

Names are a tricky business. There are many different directions in which you can go, and there isn’t really a “right” and “wrong” when it comes to naming. However, there is such a thing as “tasteful” and “distasteful.”

Tasteful” implies that the reader won’t scrunch up his or her nose at the name.

It is important to consider:

:bulletblue: The way it sounds.
:bulletblue: How appropriate it is during that time in that location.
:bulletblue: What it may or may not reveal about the character’s personality.

    Why? Let’s give some examples of random names:

“Gabriela Stella Violetrose”

  • Very, very feminine. Be careful that your reader isn’t provoked to vomiting.

  • That last name is much too unrealistic. It has no roots whatsoever in history. Even names like “Johnson” had a purpose: “John’s son.” Someone just picked two random words that sounded pretty and stuck them together with superglue.

  • Her parents must have been drunk naming her. Putting “Gabriela” next to “Stella” is unrealistically girly enough. Even if “Violetrose” was an actual family name, what are the odds they would add “Gabriela Stella?”

Tasteful or distasteful:

Does not flow well. Poorly constructed. Distasteful.

“Jessica Gomez”

  • “Gomez” is a Hispanic name (to the best of my knowledge). If your character has absolutely no Hispanic heritage or relations (as in having no stepparent or husband with this name) whatsoever, you may want to rethink it to better fit your character’s backstory.

  • Jessica is an easy name to abbreviate to ‘Jess.’ Does she prefer to go by ‘Jess?’ What would that imply about her personality?

Tasteful or distasteful:

Depends on how well it is used. Medium.

“Sam Alex Carter”

  • The name is gender neutral. Both ‘Sam’ and ‘Alex’ are names for both boys and girls. If you’re still in the character design stage, it might be a good working name to try out. Determining whether your character should be male or female would not be affected by the character’s name and you’d be free to choose based on what would fit the plot the best.

  • The name flows particularly well. You want to have a name that the reader can pronounce in their head and can be said quickly and easily.

Tasteful or distasteful:

Flows cleanly. Can be re-worked to writer’s satisfaction. Tasteful.

:-?     How well should the name fit the character?

The answer is a simple one. About as well as you think the writing style should allow, and kept in a realistic range. How many people have you met who fit their name well? Probably more than the alternative.

It’s usually the case that people fit their name well because they’ve grown to suit it. The way the name sounds in our heads and out loud and the connotations we attach to it has helped shape this person’s image.

Some people like adding a secret meaning behind their character’s name. Using another language to code information regarding this person, such as description, past, personality, future, etc.

    I’ve done this often, but more typically, to avoid being obvious or incorrect, I like to browse my bookshelf and pick name fragments off the spines until I get a mixture of names that suits my character well.

:-?     Should I give my character a nickname?

Not everyone has a name that can be made into a nickname. I wouldn’t go out of your way to find one. Nicknames can come from personality traits and bits of this character’s history as well.

    Try not to give your character a nickname that has nothing to do with their real name, personality, or appearance. For example, in one of my stories, a character, much to his chagrin, is persistently referred to as ‘Air Force’ because of his past in the US Air Force. This is a fitting nickname because it has to do with his history. An unfitting name would be something like ‘Red’ or ‘Casey.’ These have nothing to do with his past, name, or personality. So make sure if your character is re-named by someone, they have a reason for doing so and fits them in some way.

    As far as deciding to give your character one, it’s entirely up to you. If they have the right personality to want to be called a shortened version, they probably will. Usually playful characters will be the first to give someone a nickname, even if it’s undesired. If the character’s name is excessively long or difficult to pronounce, it’s almost inevitable some tweaking will be necessary.

As I’ve said before, there’s no set ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to name your character as long as you engineer it correctly. But keep in mind you will need to use this name repetitively throughout the whole story, so pick something tasteful if possible.

5) Character backgrounds

    The backgrounds of your characters are extremely important.
It’s why you all took History class. What happened in the past influences the present. 100%. It’s called the “butterfly effect.”

To see the butterfly effect in action, imagine you find a time machine. You decide to take the time machine back in time a few hundred years and run around a bit, exploring the world 100 years ago. When you come back, you realize with horror all governments worldwide have collapsed, society is in complete ruins, and the world population has dropped into dire poverty!

    While you may not have altered anything significant, one little detail that you may have caused could cause more details, and those bigger details caused even bigger ones, et cetera, until the world has collapsed.

    So how does that relate to your character? Apply the butterfly effect to your character’s background. Say they decided not to go to college. In the future, your character might have serious regrets about it for lack of a steady career, possibly leading to lack of money or even addictions. What happened “back then” changes what happens “in the now.”

    How about other influences of character backgrounds? If a person was raised to reject people who try to keep them down or insult them, their story would end differently than someone who was raised to keep their head down and accept inequality or hatred. The plot relies on the character’s background. Keep that in mind when you design a character’s backstory.

    This section is pretty short because it’s a big topic but still very general conceptually, so I don’t need to go into many specifics. Things you may need to look out for and take note of, though, would be:

  • The customs of the location and time period

  • Siblings (Think Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft Holmes. In the BBC show Sherlock, [here is the IMDb page if you haven’t heard of it], the conversations and interplay of the two are a great addition to the show.)

  • Your character’s upbringing

  • Your character’s life philosophies (Ties into that last part, too. The morals their parents teach them and their judgement on life based on their first years of it.)

  • The events occurring during the time of the story (either large scale, like revolutions, or small scale, like the death of a relative.)

  • The attitude of others toward the character

  • Traumatic events

  • Things your character may have been involved in (organizations, wars, plots, and such.)

6) Steer clear of...

While experimenting in the field of literature is encouraged, there are some things to try to avoid.

Certain situations or errors can be a major turn-off for the reader for multiple reasons. Here is a quick run-down of things that might be smart to avoid:

    :bulletred: Cliches

    :bulletyellow: Mary-Sues

    :bulletgreen: Anachronisms

    :bulletblue: Unimportant Aspects

:bulletred: Cliches

        Average Joe, whom we met earlier, has a very overdone personality. To avoid creating a character you would never remember, such as average Joe, simply steer clear of the cliches. Some character cliches include:

    Orphanization; magical abilities; a past of bullying; popularity and beauty; a friendly, moral, and caring personality; overdone gender roles; extremely high intelligence that somehow does not show in the way they act at all; relationship drama; annoying little brother/sister; “permanently” in high school (as in, the plot never seems to revolves around anything but what happens in school); and general Mary-Sue-like qualities.

These are perfectly alright to use if you recognized several in your writing, but if you recognized more than half of these, it may be time to add a little more originality to your character.

:bulletyellow: Mary-Sues

I could drone on for hours about how much Mary Sues bother me, but instead I’ll spare you the pain and summarize.

In short, Mary Sues typically possess the traits listed above. They have very cliche personalities, appearances, and backgrounds, and they usually possess no flaws whatsoever, or their flaws have no negative effect on them.

    How do you know if you’ve created a Mary Sue? It’s difficult to tell sometimes because there are lots of different types, but here’s a checklist to help you identify them:

  • He/she has more than half of the cliche traits above and some unmentioned ones

  • He/she is unrealistically special

  • The world revolves around him/her

  • He/she has no major or noticeable flaws

  • He/she defies basic logic just so they can be special

  • He/she lives up to the author’s every ideal (for example, a religious author making every one of their characters religious or a fashion enthusiast always giving each of their characters impeccable style.)

  • Everyone seems to agree with him/her

  • Everyone seems to think those who don’t like him/her are automatically evil

  • He/she looks gorgeous

  • He/she has impeccable timing and is always there when and where the plot necessitates him/her to be, even when it makes no sense.

    Mary sues bother me a lot because they’re not original. If you did a little mental check down the checklist and only checked a few of them, you’re in relatively good shape. If you checked none of them, even better. Of course, there are some that you can have, like looking gorgeous. But make sure your character isn’t too special. Keep it realistic, folks.

Of course, while Mary Sues can be annoying on their own, there are many different types of Mary Sues that might be lurking within your character.

    A common type of Mary Sue, and one you’ll probably find more often than a regular Mary Sue, is the Anti Sue. The Anti Sue is the complete opposite of the Mary sue. She (or he) fails at everything, is constantly insulted, and is incapable of solving their own problems.

    Find out more about the Anti Sue and other types of Sues in this reading on Mary Sues, also linked to at the bottom of the journal in “further reading.”

:bulletgreen: Anachronisms

Anachronism. According to Google:

a·nach·ro·nism   əˈnakrəˌnizəm/  noun     1. a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, esp. a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. "everything was as it would have appeared in centuries past apart from one anachronism, a bright yellow construction crane" 

    Realistic fiction and historical fiction writing projects take a lot of research. If you’re going to commit your time to such a project, you might as well commit to spending time in the library, interviewing people, or, as I’d be more comfortable doing, simply sitting in front of your computer getting what you need to know from reliable sources. (Things listed as .org .net or .edu tend to be reliable. Keep that in mind with online research. Don’t be afraid to use Wikipedia as long as you do a fact-check against other sources.)

    Say, for example, your story is set in 1950s South and you want to deal with racism and segregation. (Even if you don’t want to, you’re probably going to need to put it in at some point. Trying not to would be like writing a story about the Sahara desert without ever mentioning sand once.) If you never experienced the 1950s South firsthand and don’t know what it’s like, do some research on it. It’s better to spend time reading a reliable information source than be wrong and get shamed by people who know you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    If you’re writing about the industrial revolution and decide to have your characters talk all about their plane trips and telephones, do a little brushing up. Perhaps you’ll see what the norms were back then and have a better idea what to mention.

:bulletblue: Unimportant Aspects

Your characters are very important, but there are some things you won’t need to include. While you may like what you’ve written, certain things can make your writing unnecessarily long and tedious to read.

    Extra bits that don’t add any depth to your character can be easily discarded. If they don’t help the plot along or significantly add to the story, you don’t need them. Even if you think you really, really need to keep it because you wrote it so well and used such good word choice, writing is about sacrifice sometimes...

    ...But keep the parts you cut out! Perhaps on a word document. It’s what I do, in order to use them in another project where they might work well. I may need to tweak a few things, but don’t think not using them in a certain story means forgetting about them.


    Insignificant bits such as age aren’t that necessary, but if your character is involved in a relationship or needs to act their age, it could be important.

    Also, keep in mind to always align your character’s responsibilities with their age. Say you want your twelve-year-old protagonist to be in charge of fighting aliens and have secret ties in the government. Not likely. Perhaps their parents would, but if you want to write a story about some person defending earth from an extraterrestrial threat with a bunch of cool secret agent stuff, you’ll have to make them a decent age (Here, they’d probably need to be at least in their late twenties) to be responsible enough to be trusted.


    Some may consider gender to be important, but unless your story has to do with gender rights, oppression, or topics specific to one gender such as pregnancy, gender doesn’t matter too much. For example, a female superhero can save the world just as well as a male superhero could, or there could be an inspirational story about a male or female musician rising out of poverty. Many books today have characters whose gender could go either way. So how to decide on a gender? Pretty much whatever you want. If you have a really cool idea for a name specific to females, then you'd put a female character in; if you want the story to be about some male businessman, you'd put a male character in; and so on.
    If your story is set during a time period or in an area where genders are not equal, such as when women had no rights to vote, it would add more realism to the story to mention that.

8) Voicing your character (Dialogue and the voice of character actions)

    Your character’s voice is very important to the story, both with what they physically say (the dialogue) and the actions they take (their nonverbal speech). So I suggest taking a minute to review some pointers about how to use dialogue and nonverbal speech effectively.


Many people find it hard to write convincing dialogue that sounds like it could actually be spoken smoothly. A solution to this problem is to write the sentences you wish, then read them out loud and see how they sound. If they don’t sound right, try to re-write them until they flow well.

Take some time to observe how people speak and you’ll have realistic dialogue before you begin.

Now, what kind of dialogue is necessary, and what is unnecessary? Of course, humans often talk unnecessarily to pass time or simply to socialize. To keep your dialogue realistic, be sure to add some things that aren’t necessarily relevant to what’s going on, like a character offering another character coffee, or discussing a character that has no real prominence in the plot. These can often reveal things about your character’s personality, so they aren’t always pointless. Just keep in mind that a dialogue that is solely plot and important information is dangerous because the reader could easily miss something important and relevant and it gets unrealistic easily.

Nonverbal actions:

What actions you take help define your personality and alter the world around you. In the case of a novel, they not only help define a character’s personality, but they move the plot along.

Say a character is holding a lit match. What do they do with it? If you like fire as much as I do, the options are endless. Do they douse it? Do they light a cigarette? Do they burn the portrait of a tyrannical leader on live television? Do they destroy a whole building? Each one of those actions says something different about the character and sends a different message, and each one can be a pivotal point in the progression of the plot (yay, alliteration!).

Always keep in mind your character’s actions and all the different things it could mean.

9) Q & A

Here are some various questions you might have and their answers:

Q. Is there a specific number of characters I should have? What’s a good number?
A. It depends on what type of story you’re writing and what suits your needs best, but I wouldn’t do any fewer than three and no more than ten, just as a ballpark estimate. Don’t get carried away with too many characters, or your reader will get confused, and if you do too few, you’ll quickly run out of options for dialogue.

Q. Which should I do first: create characters, or sketch a plot?
A. There are many different writing styles, but I found the most reliable one is to figure out a plot first. In the Seattle EMP Museum, with many pop culture displays, you can see Tolkien's notebook where he sketched out a detailed draft of the plots of his many stories and working titles for characters (I highly suggest you go check it out). Even for the greats, the plot is usually more important to get down first.

Q. Should I make a character sheet for my characters?
A. You don’t have to, and I often don’t recommend it because it takes up too much time, (here is an article summarizing all the nasty stuff about them, and they make some pretty good points.) but it’s excellent for reference. If you’re unfamiliar with them, character sheets leave space for you to describe your character’s name, age, gender, height, personality, time period, background, and other aspects you might need to reference again. So if you find the time, deviantART has plenty of character sheets. Here is an excellent one I found.

Q. What are good time periods and places for my story to be set?
If you’re new to writing and don’t feel like doing a lot of research, set your story in modern times and write about a place you know about. It’ll make it easier. But I’ve found it gets boring after a while to read about present day all the time, set in the same few countries, so once you’ve gotten warmed up to the idea of research, mix it up a little. Set it in places that you usually don’t see in writing, like Mongolia or Sudan. Travel back in time, or to the future. If you already know about less common places (perhaps you live there) and time periods (perhaps you've survived them) without needing to research, even better! It makes it much more interesting to read when you talk about new subjects.

Q. How do I add character diversity without seeming stereotypical?
Most reasons why something seems stereotypical are all to do with common convictions about a certain community. If you can successfully avoid those in several cases, you’ll be fine, and can add as much diversity as you want. But be careful, it’s a fine line between diverse and stereotypical.

Q. When are character cliches appropriate to use?
A. Any time you like, but I don’t suggest it. However, the cases in which you can successfully use a character cliche are to... A) Prove a deeper message behind your story that takes priority over making it realistic; B) Give it a comedic twist; or C) Be purposely lazy. Cliches are easy to do and hard to get rid of. Put some effort into making your story as original as it can be.

Q. Can I write a story with no characters at all?
Yes, you can, but it’ll be tricky, depending on what you view as a character. Writing a summary about the Russian Revolution, for example, would be mainly a big history lesson and would not necessitate the use of dialogue, but you’d eventually find yourself needing to reference people.

Q. What are some character exercises I can do to get better at creating them?
Play a little game called “What Would So-and-so Do?”. Figure out how your character would react to: Being proposed to, being locked in a room with a serial killer and a knife, waking up to a meteor crashing through their window, their country losing all its money, their parents' deaths, and finding tickets to Disney Land. Doing improv games is also a good exercise. One in particular is called “the Bus Ride,” in which players are all assigned a distinct character personality, board an imaginary bus and speak to the driver about whatever they wish. The bus driver, who does not have an assigned personality, must guess each character’s personality and respond to each of the players using the personality that the player used to speak to the driver.

Q. How do I get more recognition for my stories?
I can’t tell you much about getting recognition, as I have very little myself. If you’re curious, some of the more successful artists on here could probably tell you a thing or two about how they think their success came about.

Q. Why is this a journal entry and not a deviation?
Easier to add visual effects like bolding. :shrug:

And that’s all I got, pretty much! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and will make good use of it! Let me know what you think in the comments and share it with everyone you know!

Until next time! :wave:

Further Readings:

Reading on Mary Sues

by Animedemon001

Types of Mary-Sue'sAngsty Sue: This type of Sue is created for people to feel bad for because of some dark past. Every other character in the story (unless they're mean or spiteful) will always make the Sue’s angst the biggest issue in the story and the fact that she constantly dwells in her own self pity will be considered a “natural reaction”. If two characters both have traumatic experiences, the Sue will receive more attention no matter what. The main goal of these is often to have the OC cuddle with a canon character.
 Example one: Fred has just had his leg chopped off and will die if he does not receive medical attention immediately, but Mary-Sue is crying because of her daddy issues so everyone is busy comforting her. When Fred tries to call attention to the fact that he’s dying, the others will call him selfish for not caring about Mary-Sue.
Example two:  Best friends, Lucy and Mary-Sue were both kidnapped. Lucy was raped, and Mary-Sue witnessed it. W

Helping to flaw your characters

by WonHitWonder

The Cracks Begin to Show: Making Flawed Characters
First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.
I've run across an odd myth about fictional characters here on good ol' deviantART:  If my character isn't a Mary Sue then I've definitely written a good character.  Sadly, this is not so.  A Mary Sue (see here for more) is just a specific kind of bad character.  Not all bad characters are Mary Sues.  It would be like saying that since the movie you made isn't Birdemic or The Room, it's a good movie.  Erm… that's not quite the case.  Maybe your skills are only OK.  What's a budding writer to do?
Making a good character is a lot more complex than just avoiding

Character naming

by WonHitWonder

A Rose by Any Other Name: Naming Your Characters
First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few drawing books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.
First things first; I have a quick, but essential assignment for you.  Read the following three sentences below, out loud:
A weird name does not a unique character make.
A weird name does not a memorable character make.
A weird name does not a good character make.

Say it.  Say it twice.  Say it three times if you must.  I wish someone had made me do it years ago.  You must remember that the reason that I write these tutorials isn't because my writing is super-duper-perfect now.  It's because it used to be absolutely ATROCIOUS, just plain awful.  I've made most, if not

More Mary Sue information

by WonHitWonder

I'm Suing You: Why Do We Make Mary Sues?
First of all, I freely admit that what I say isn't gospel. I am a total amateur at art and writing. I've learned everything that I know via the internet and a few drawing books. It's just that I appreciate all of the tutorials here on dA that have helped me out, and I want to put a little bit of my own methods back in.
Let me get this out of the way:  I only write tutorials if I feel that I have something to add to the topic or if I feel like it's one that few people touch on.  So then why on Earth am I writing about Mary Sues?  Everyone's written about them!  And it's true; this topic has been well-explored in countless places that it seems pointless to go over it again.  Heck, you can find one of my favorite Sue-torials here (WARNING: THESE THINGS ARE HILARIOUS).  I'm not even going to tell you what a

Designing your characters

by tracyjb

Lackadaisy - PatreonI've recently left my job in the game industry so that I could focus more of my time and attention on Lackadaisy.  Patreon is my weapon of choice in trying to see this to fruition.
If more Lackadaisy comic updates, illustrations, tutorials, mini-comics, books and other things interests you, please do check it out!

Notes on Character Design
I received the question pictured below at my tumblr blog.  In case it's useful to anyone here, I decided to go ahead and use this otherwise dormant journal to share the article I put together in response.
Character design and drawing are tome-sized topics and even if I had all the answers (I don't - I have a lot to learn), I'm not sure I could communicate them effectively. Here are some thoughts an ideas that might help, though.
First, some general things...
- Relax.
Let some of that anxiety go. This isn't a hard science. There's no wrong way,

Creating characters

by illuminara

Character Creation Tips
Note: I wrote this after reading a similar article in The Writer magazine about a year ago.  Hope it's helpful!
Not all characters are created equal.  Here are some steps to make yours superior.
1) Desire
Figure out what your character wants, needs, desires.  A closer relationship with God?  A place to belong?  Just to survive?  Figure it out.  You can’t move on to number 2 until you have.
2) Fear
Now that you know what your character most desires, you should be able to figure out what he/she most fears.  Doing the wrong thing, being alone, death?  They are the polar opposites of your character’s desires.
3) History
Go back in time to before your story begins and create a detailed backstory for your character.  What happened in to past to create in him the desires and fears that he has now?  Be specific.  Write out individual scenes, or at leas

More designing characters

by Heartless-Bowser

Character Design 101
When it comes to character design, there's more to it than just the appearance of a character. While the looks of a character can tell a lot about said character, we all know that looks can be deceiving!
A lot of people seem to think that designing the appearance of a character is a character design. It is, when it comes to visual design. But what is the character like?  
When people do give attention to that question, they'll often come up with characters that are either loved or hated by everyone, that have epic superpowers or superhuman abilities that no one (not even God) can ever hope to topple, and if they do somehow get beaten the shit out of them suddenly remember that there's an even greater power sleeping within them, which they will instantly activate no matter if they got just a scratch or are severely wounded. I'm not even going into the melodramatic background stories of them there.
So, what makes a good character design? What is the key to making a belie

Helping to make more realistic characters

by DarlingMionette

A Writer's Guide: Believable CharactersI know a lot of you out there are aspiring-writers (I’m one myself!) and sometimes we get so caught up in this “must publish!” attitude that we get lost in our stories along the way. Sometimes there comes a point when we stare at our half-finished novel and say “I’m stuck. “ Usually these moments happen when we don’t know where we’re going next with our story, and usually that’s because somewhere along the line we’ve strayed off the path and we aren’t quite sure how to get back.
One of the things that you may find helpful if you’ve never done it before is to take a really in-depth look at your characters and the world they live in. Characters are really the backbone of our stories. You can carry an entire story on the shoulders of a character without much plot (memoirs anyone?), but you can’t carry a plot without some great characters. So, to help you guys out, I wanted to write an article on things you shoul

Add a Comment:
Jonup Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2015  Student Digital Artist
awesome tip 
bloedzuigerbloed Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you!
Faraleigh Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Student Writer

It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I see not only that people are striving to make realistic characters but also that they’re helping others toward that goal as well. I’d like to share a few thoughts on your guide, and I’m sure by the time I’m done typing this that will be a laughable statement!


Dry characters: I really appreciate that you provided instances of when Average Joe is an appropriate character model. I’d just like to expand on that a little by saying they’re great mechanisms for contrast. If you’ve got a wild and crazy plot or setting, Average Joe will really serve to show just how wild and crazy it is by contrasting it against normalcy. Average Joe will also show how the average person will react in such a situation, making wild and crazy plots and settings more easily understood/empathized with by the reader.


Noticeable and memorable characters: A great way to achieve this (and I’m more or less paraphrasing what you said I suppose) is to make them human. Give them something that your readers can really connect with, something that really touches home and connects with the core of them. Expanding a little, you can do this and then on top of it have the characters achieve something the reader wants to achieve. For example, maybe the character grew up poor and knows just how hard life can be… but now they’ve rebounded and have fought tooth and nail through college to make a better life for themselves.


Research: A common danger of researching is punishing readers for your knowledge (I actually found a Wikipedia entry copy and pasted, links and all, into a manuscript I could have edited… I shudder at the memory). If you’ve busted your behind learning about the Hundred Years War, don’t then shove everything down the reader’s throat to show you did the work. Make sure the information is integrated naturally. It’s likely not new information for the characters after all. It’s the state of their reality.


Spend time with your characters: Great tip. While some people will surely disagree, I find it most useful to know your characters inside and out and know how they’re going to react in any given situation. The more you know, the more realistically they can be portrayed.


Strengths and flaws: I’m tempted to say that flaws are more important to focus on than strengths. It’s easy to make your character good at something. It’s a lot harder to make them bad at something. As you said, we’re all flawed, and thus any realistic character needs flaws to be realistic. But in addition to that, I think the most powerful thing a character can do is not overcome the antagonist or environment or what have you, but overcome himself, his shortcomings and flaws. You demonstrated this with Sir Cumference, when he had the option to overcome his own flaws for the sake of another’s life. I was a little disappointed at how little space flaws got here, but I can’t complain too much considering how much other information you provided. :)


Names: My muse taught me something interesting about nicknames that I’d like to share. Building the possibility for a nickname (Jess for Jessica) gives you a cheat. Only certain characters, particularly ones who know them and generally know them well, will use that familiar nickname. So when you introduce a new character to the story that has a tie with said character, you can illustrate their relationship by using that nickname with incredibly little effort. Another thing with names to keep in mind is that a character, generally speaking, is named by their parents. Their name, then, may speak more to their background, to who their parents are, than who the character is themselves. And then there are those people who can’t stand their names, like me. :) I’ve been going by nothing but my last name for so long that it makes my skin crawl a little to hear someone refer to my actual first name… I don’t fit my name anymore.


Backgrounds: Again, kudos for a great tip. I’ve found so many awesome story hooks for characters after fleshing out background information… This also kind of ties into age, though. The main characters in my current project are in their mid- to late-forties. Their backgrounds are imperative, not only in how they act, interact, and react, but also in how the world at large views them, how other people act, interact, and react with them.


Clichés: They exist for a reason. Just sayin’.


Mary Sues: Like anything else, Mary Sues can be done if done right. Something I’ve learned is that, if you’ve built trust with your reader, as long as you acknowledge something that could be a problem, it becomes intentional and acceptable in the reader’s eye. So if another character basically calls a Mary Sue on her Mary Sueness, your readers are going to rage at the character for her being an awful person instead of raging at you, the author, for making an awful character.


Anachronisms: They have their place, but must be used right (intentionally!).


Age: As I touched on before, I think age is important. You can build some amazing stories around people too old or too young for something getting involved in it, and kicking its ass. Of course, it’s not necessary to out-and-out state a character’s age. You just, well, gotta do it right. :)


Gender: Another thing I think is actually important. Males and females are different, chemically. We think differently. We process information differently. Our physiologies are different. Females tend to see details, while males tend to see the bigger picture (which is why they tend to be better in leadership positions). Females tend to be more emotional, males more logical. Females have stronger lower bodies while males have stronger upper bodies. Females are more social while males are more aggressive and competitive. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There can be gaping differences between us due to our chromosomal makeup, and thus I think consideration of sex and gender is integral, too. Of course, these are just generalities. I love me some logical ladies. :D


Nonverbal actions: I really appreciate how you pointed that each action a character makes speaks to who they are. Additionally, I think you would’ve done well to mention nonverbal communication, the actions we make while speaking or use in place of speaking. These things are very important, and can, of course, speak to who the character is. Do they flail their arms exaggeratedly as they speak? Are they precise, or even sit stock still while talking? Do they nod a lot while they’re listening? Do their eyes wander, do they tap their feet impatiently? So many possibilities that can help breathe life into a character! I also use them as a sneaky way to avoid using “said” and “asked” and all that too often, replacing the tags with action to show who the quoted material came from.


Gah. Yeah. Laughable indeed… lol So sorry for the length.

bloedzuigerbloed Featured By Owner May 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:wow: Oh my gosh, longest comment I've ever received. How long did this take to write? :D Thank you for taking the time to write it. I'm afraid I don't have time to respond to each of these points individually, so let me just say, I have read through them all and so very greatly appreciate your feedback! It's wonderful to know someone took the time to comment such a long comment to help me improve my tutorials.

I will definitely improve each section to your suggestions. Thank you again very much! (Llama back at you)
Faraleigh Featured By Owner May 24, 2014  Student Writer
:lol: I can be a bit long-winded (fingered?) at times. Might've taken me the better part of an hour, including interruptions from work.

I just thought of something I forgot while making breakfast. Regarding plot, I think it needs to at least be developed in tandem with your characters otherwise you'll have a plot-centric story. Individuals are going to respond differently to situations, thus altering how the plot unfolds. If that isn't considered, characters mean less in the grand scheme of your story. Consider Lord of the Rings. Characters are pretty much interchangeable, and don't have much effect on how the plot unfolds. And that's fine if that's what you're going for. There are a lot of popular works out there that are story driven rather than character driven. Nothing's set in stone when it comes to writing. It's art after all. :)
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner May 2, 2014   General Artist
This is a really thorough tutorial! I can tell you put a lot of thought into it, and it turned out well. :) I would suggest also discussing the topic of motivation, since it is so central to the character's role and actions in the story.

I think this will help many beginning and struggling writers, and I'm happy to accept it into Writing-Resources.
bloedzuigerbloed Featured By Owner May 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much! :love:
What type of motivation do you mean, exactly? How driven the character is to take action?

I'm glad it's finally been accepted! Flirtatious I've had a lot of trouble recently with submitting works.
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner May 14, 2014   General Artist
By "motivation," I mean desire. (For example, "He wants to repair his relationship with his mother" or "She wants to create an extremely intelligent robot.") A character's motivation drives the plot, so it's something I like to focus on when creating meaningful characters. :)

That would be my fault; sorry. I've been sick a lot and haven't been voting on submissions. :noes:
bloedzuigerbloed Featured By Owner May 16, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Alright, thank you! I'll be sure to include it. :)

Oh, don't worry, it was with many different groups. I've been so occupied too, I can't find the time to do promised critiques!
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