NaNoWriMo: Creating Characters That Breathe

Category: Writing

Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through. I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul.



Now, that is quite a tall order Mr Ibsen - every wrinkle? But he does make an excellent point. The best characters are those that have depth to them, that come alive in the pages of a book. Readers care about what happens to them and follow them closely until the final page is turned.

But we know that creating convincing, believable characters is not easy. So we have a few suggestions that we think might help:

Jasmine Fassl (Children's Programme Manager): You could base your characters on real people. People that you know. But if you do this, ensure that you don't use their real names. It just leads to hard feelings and law-suits.

Philippa Cochrane (Acting Head of Programme): Get on the bus. The bus is your character finding friend! An enclosed space, a reasonable length of time and - if you sit on the fold-down seat facing away from the driver - an uninterrupted view of interesting facial expressions, body language and clothing choices. The bus is also a great excuse for surreptitious eavesdropping to gather dialogue and accent ideas.

Obviously, a good character is based on a lot more than a few minutes of observation, but I always find this a great way to get started. Also – if stuck during NaNoWriMo and in need of a break, taking a bus ride counts as work!

Caitrin Armstrong (Writer Development Manager): Ask questions of your characters. Get to know them. What are they afraid of and why? Who is the most important person in their lives? What is their favourite Dire Straits song and do they prefer Camembert or Gouda? If you don’t know the answers, you perhaps don’t know your characters well enough.


Tomorrow: Helen Croney on the evils of adjectives.