Fiction Writing: Character Creation

In past Fiction Writing Series posts, we’ve discussed how to make people care about your character, why characters rule the story, and overcoming the fear of hurting your characters.

Now it’s time to build a character. Open the creative vaults and let your imagination run wild.

The Spark of Creation

Everyone has their own process for creating characters. In gaming, character sheets that use points or numbers to determine skill levels and abilities are common. In fiction writing, authors may build complex Black Books for each character. Others might just have a general idea of their character.

The character sheets used for gaming offer a good opportunity to finding the perfect middle ground between more than vague and less than complex. A basic character sheet goes a long way in helping you flesh out your character concept to create a living, breathing character you’ll want to play every day.

Inspiration is all around you – all you have to do is open yourself up to it. Here are some ways to begin building a character for your novel, your story or for our creative writing game:

Get a Good Name

Names often have very strong associations for people. I absolutely love some names because they remind me of people I’ve liked in the past. Some names invoke an emotion or a feeling.

Be careful though – Some names make you want to cringe. Some are just silly. Some… well. Put some thought into what your character’s name will be.

Listen to a Great Song

Song lyrics are very powerful. They evoke mood and emotion. They also help to set a scene in your mind. Maybe when you hear a certain song you think of a specific individual or can picture the kind of person that would have that song as a theme.

Watch a Movie; Read a Book

Actors and characters in books also give you ideas for your own characters. The way a person looks, acts or might behave in real life could start you on a concept.

Love Gladiator? What about a character with the same values? Love Julia Roberts? Maybe your character smiles the same way or laughs just as openly.

Who Are You?

Now that you have a general idea what your character looks like or how he or she behaves and moves, you have to decide who this person is. This is your character concept. It’s a teaser. It should be easy to state in one or two sentences.

For example, John Doe left his home in Montana to find his missing brother who mysteriously disappeared. John feels responsible for keeping the family together and will do anything to make that happen.

A couple of simple lines provides a wealth of information for building the rest of the character’s personality, strengths and weaknesses. It also leaves room for development and potential storylines.

The Character Sheet

Is your character a computer genius? What level of education has he completed? Is he good at fixing things? Can he drive? Does he have any vices? What are his personal strengths? Everyday things we take for granted go into your character – because one day, he may need to use those skills.

Some other aspects of a character to consider are:

  • Family and friends (names of parents, siblings, spouses, and close friends)
  • Occupation
  • Social status
  • Financial background
  • Pet peeves
  • Date and place of birth
  • Appearance
  • Greatest achievement/failure
  • Hopes and fears

The list is practically endless. Get as detailed as you want. Real people have many facets, and so should your character.

How Did I Get Here?

The next thing to decide is how your character arrived at where he is now. For example, our upcoming creative writing game is set in a fictional town called Reckon located in the Lake Tahoe area of Nevada.

People from all lifestyles pass through Lake Tahoe. Vacationers, con artists, the rich and famous, the poor and notorious… they arrive there for a reason, even if that reason is just wanderlust. How did your character get to where he is?

This is your prelude. Every character has a history. It’s up to you to fill in those details for a rich character with a full life story to share.


Now it’s time for introductions. Characters don’t just stand up and say, “Here I am!” The author introduces them to readers in some way.

Character introductions tend come about in two ways: Through the author’s introduction to the reader by describing the scene that includes the character and his thoughts, or through meeting other characters.

Once the work is done, you get to start having fun – you may already be having fun by now. Personally, I find the process of creating characters to be the best part, and I take weeks to do it.

Exploring a new character is like meeting a new friend. Take your time. Enjoy it. As the saying goes, the fun is in the journey, not the destination.

Our new creative writing role-playing game is quickly approaching its launch – are you ready? The first thing you’ll need to be involved in a great game that uses your wits and writing skills is a character concept.

If you’re interested in submitting a character for our upcoming creative writing game, contact us. I’ll send you a character sheet and help you build your character.

Photo Credit: Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, The Sistine Chapel

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