Sunday, May 15, 2022

Scrivening 7: Who was that Character I Saw You With Last Night?


Assuming you are not a Baker Street Irregular, can you describe off the top of your head the plots of these stories:
  • “The Adventure of the Five Napoleons”
  • “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge”
  • “The Adventure of the Empty House”

Now, can describe the character of Sherlock Holmes? 

Of course you can. Often, Character trumps Plot in making a story click. Indeed, Henry James declared, "Character IS Plot!" How a plot proceeds will depend on the Characters who move through it.

Examples of memorable characters include Hercule Poirot, Indiana Jones, Kim, and others. Sometimes, a character is a one-off. It is hard to imagine Kipling's Kim without the character of Kim himself. Replace the central character of an orphaned child of a British soldier and Indian mother knocking around the Raj and it becomes an entirely different Story. It is equally difficult to imagine Kim II: Secret Agent. 

But some characters, like Poirot or Holmes or Travis McGee, go on to fresh, new adventures. Mysteries seem especially suited to series. David Copperfield does not. Captain Nemo is an intriguing character, but Verne used him only twice.

A Situation and a Character

Consider the following Situation:

One day, Jimmy decided he would drive the family car to St. Louis. 

Not very interesting, TOF hears you say. So, let's up the ante:

As the dust from the meteor strike began settling over the ruins of Denver, Jimmy decided he had better take the family car and high-tail it to St. Louis before the engine became choked with grit.  

Now we're cooking. We've got the meteor strike, we've got a reason for taking the car, and we've got a destination. But who is Jimmy and why should we care if he gets to St Louis or not? If we want to make the Situation fraught, "Jimmy" must be a Character, not just a name.

...but first he had to tie wooden blocks to his sneakers so his feet could reach the pedals. 
Wait! What? Jimmy is a kid? What happened to his parents? Does he know where he is going? When did he learn to drive a car? All sorts of questions pop up. But they are different questions than we would ask if Jimmy were an ex-Special Forces soldier trained in survival techniques. Either Jimmy can make an interesting Story, but they would be different Stories. Because Character really is Plot.

Fables and Romances


The word for novel is in many languages roman, which gave rise to romantic and romance, though not in the sense of modern publishing categories but more in the sense of romance languages.

The early medieval period had stories, often in verse, called the chansons de geste, songs of heroes. These fables were like ancient myths and legends. A typical example is Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne [The Pilgrimage of Charlemagne], sung ca. 1140. This told how Big Chuck and his peeps traveled to Jerusalem. Along the way, they drop in on the Eastern Emperor and learn that Constantinople sits on a rotating disk atop a tall pole. [Think "medieval space station".] Spoiler alert: it does not. But the image fulfilled the allegory of Byzantium as a fabulous realm full of wonders. No one cared about journalistic accuracy.

In a fable, archetypes perform iconic deeds in an allegorical setting. Hero, wise queen, brave traitor, cowardly traitor, beautiful princess... We know what they are expected to do; not because of their motivations, but because that's what their type does. Fables are still being written, sometimes on purpose. In the modern era, a fable may feature young iconoclast scientist who sees a danger/opportunity no one else does, old fogy scientist who doesn't believe him, beautiful daughter of old fogy scientist, plucky rebel, and so on.

But sometime in the 13th century, something new developed. It was called novel because it was new. This new kind of narrative developed from poems like
Meier Helmbrecht, by Wernher der Gärtner, ca. 1250. (Note that we now start learning who the Authors were.) This epic featured, not a knight or a king, but a peasant who runs off to join the knights but winds up serving a bandit chief and gets hanged by the very peasants he had imagined he was championing. Helmbrecht subverted medieval tropes long before George R. R. Martin. [Think what Helm and brecht mean in German.]

These romances featured realistic characters moving through realistic landscapes and acting from their own motives and purposes. Of course, the kitten is not a cat, an acorn is not an oak, and Helmbrecht is not War and Peace. The novel has developed greatly in the past 700-plus years.

Walk-on Characters

Novels typically feature multiple Characters, each with his or her own motives and purposes, and is a tapestry woven from these many threads. Every character is the hero of his own story. But not all Characters are created equal.

Archetypes and stereotypes still serve a purpose in realistic fictions. They are the background characters, the walk-ons that give a milieu the sense of being "lived in." But we don't want to spend much time on them. The cabby, the skycap, the ticket agent are merely a cabby, a skycap or a ticket agent doing things that cabbies, skycaps, and ticket agents  typically do. They need not be characterized.

Consider the following example by Orson Scott Card (Writer's Digest,May 1, 2012)

Nora accidentally gave the cabby a $20 bill for a $5 ride and then was too shy to ask for change. Within a minute a skycap had the rest of her money.

There is no need to flesh them out beyond this. We know what cabbies and skycaps are and what they do. Characters who fit a stereotype are familiar. The reader may fill in the "background details" himself. 

Characters who violate a stereotype, otoh, can become interesting. They stand out from the crowd of "extras." We can characterize minor characters with 

  • a single trait, 
  • an eccentricity,
  • an exaggeration
and so on. The reader will remember the character with the scar on his cheek or who constantly fiddles with an old-style silver dollar, which may useful if that character makes a return appearance. Consider our friend, the cabby, from the previous example:

The cabby chased Nora into the airport, hollering, “Hey, lady! You gave me too much!” Nora tried to quiet him, but the cabby would not hear of it. “I like to earn my money, lady! Five dollar ride; one dollar tip. You got fourteen bucks coming back.”

That makes the character a bit more memorable and if on her return Nora hops into the same cab, the reader may enjoy a frisson of recollection. Here is a supporting character sketched in Donald E. Westlake's crime comedy, Nobody's Perfect:

“Hello, Dortmunder.”  Tiny had the voice of a frog in an oil drum, but less musical. “Long time, no see.”
Dortmunder sat opposite him, saying, “You look good, Tiny,” which was a palpable lie.  Tiny, hulking on the little chair, his great meaty shoulders bulging inside his cheap brown suit, a shelf of forehead bone shadowing his eyes, looked mostly like something to scare children into going to bed.

This is more than "Tiny was large and scary-looking," but not too much more (although he does become a repeating character in the series and we learn more about him).

Building a Major Character

Creating a Major Character involves several aspects. A character may spring complete from you forehead, as Athena did from the brow of Zeus, but often it's easier to build him/her up from sketch to oil painting.
  1. Getting idea from observation or experience;
  2. ‘First broad strokes’;
  3. Find core of character;
  4. Add paradoxes;
  5. Add emotions, attitudes, values;
  6. Add other details

1. That was no Character, That was my Wife

It is generally a bad idea to put actual friends, family, or colleagues into your fiction. Who knows at what they may take offense? However, there is a tradition in Science Fiction called Tuckerization, after Wilson Tucker, by which Authors do exactly that, sometimes under their own names, sometimes 'in disguise.' The Niven/Pournelle/Flynn yarn Fallen Angels is replete with actual fans, many of whom bid in a auction for the honor of being included. Harry Turtledove described a starship pilot named Mike Flynn in his Worldwar: Colonization series, probably in answer to the appearance of a Balkan expert, Capt. Dove, in the Flynn novel Rogue Star.
But more often, the Author will use bits and pieces of friends and acquaintances, not the whole person, assembling them as Frankenstein did his monster, although one hope swith happier results. Suppose your friend is a devout stamp collector. Another friend drives classic English sports cars. You may have a Character who drives a restored hunter-green TR-3 and who collects Czech First Issues. In my as-yet unpublished novel The Shipwrecks of Time, I used my wife as an armature to build Carol Harris, primarily using her physical stature and personality. But I changed things around, too. Carol was from Texas, not Oklahoma. Her father died and she was  raised by her mother rather than vice versa. I also added totally alien traits because while Carol was built from the Incomparable Marge, she was not in fact the Incomparable Marge.

The Author then has an obligation to closely observe people: at the diner, at the Little League game, on the street, harvesting bits and pieces of traits and behaviors that can be assembled into whole characters unlike any of the individuals observed. When I described the scarred man with a chin "like a coat hook", it was based on a stranger I glimpsed once on the Vienna U-bahn.
Some of the things to look for include:
  • Body: physical appearance
  • Acts: What a character does
  • Reputation: What other characters say about him
  • Habits: What a character does without thinking
  • Tastes: What a character likes to do
  • Talents: What a character can do
  • Network: Different folks for different strokes
  • The Past: What led him to his current state
  • Motive: Why he does it
A word about Networks. A person does not act the same way toward everyone he knows. Relatives, friends, co-workers may see a different person, displaying different traits and attitudes. Try not to make your characters monolithic.

Motive and Purpose

Keep in mind that each of your characters are moved by two things
  1. Motives, which stem from his past and "push" him
  2. Purposes, which lie in the future and "pull" him toward a particular goal
Those of you with Aristotelian leanings may recognize Motive and Purpose as Efficient and Final Causes for the motion of the Character.

Purposes are generally explicit and known, but the Character may not know his own Motives, though the Author dang well should. 
  • Why did Bruce Wayne become the Batman?
  • Why did Elizabeth Bennet initially reject Darcy? (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Why did Sherlock Holmes become a private inquiry agent?
  • Why does John Book not have a woman in his life? (Witness)
  • Why does Donovan accompany the harper out to the wild planets? (Up Jim River)
  • Why does Conagher stand by Seaborn Tay, a man he barely knows? (Conagher)
Lance pursues a life of dissolution perhapsbecause he wants to show his old man a thing or two, though he himself may be unaware that this is why he drinks and wenches. Part of the narrative suspense lies in gradually revealing to the Reader just what those motives are.
In Eifelheim, the Paris-educated Fr. Dietrich seeks to aid the shipwrecked aliens in part to atone for dark deeds done twenty years earlier. These deeds are gradually unveiled to the Reader in the course of the narrative. But, in the same novel, the gay character with a crush om Dietrich is never explicitly 'outed' in the text.

2. First Broad Strokes

Once you have an idea for a character, try describe him (or of course her, and in SF, it) in one sentence. Just a few broad strokes will do it. For example:
  • A lone woman on a quay gazing out to sea (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Fowles)
  • Tall and spare with a hawklike face; cold, logical, calculating (Sherlock Holmes, Doyle)
  • Short and stubby, always with an umbrella; humor, wisdom, insight (Fr Brown, Chesterton)
  • Belgian, with an egg-shaped head and a passion for order (Hercule Poirot, Christie)
  • “His mind had been split into several personalities by an experiment gone horribly wrong; or, even more horribly, right.” (Donovan buigh, Flynn)
You want, as Nancy Kress advises, to "create a visual image, so the reader can picture the character in some important way." Though you should avoid "police blotter" descriptions: height, weight, age, etc. It's okay to mention such things, but they should not constitute the introductory description. You want to "reveal something about the person inside that image" and "convey an impression of someone unique and interesting."

Stephen King introduces Carrie White as Follows
Carrie stood among [the girls in the locker room] stolidly, a frog among swans. She was a chunky girl with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks, her wet hair completely without color. It rested against her face with dispirited sogginess and she simply stood, head slightly bent, letting the water splat against her flesh and roll off.
Of course, he could have just said that Carrie was passive and unattractive, but that would be telling, not showing.Notice how his choice of words reveal these traits.
Here is how I introduced the scarred man in The January Dancer. The story is told from an omniscient viewpoint.
His face, emerging from the darkened alcove at last, is shrunken, as if he has been suctioned out and all that remains of him is skin and skull.  His flesh is sallow, his cheeks hollow.  His chin curls like a coat-hook, and his mouth sags across the saddle of the hook.  He does not look like Death.  He looks like Disapproval, and that is worse, for Death is at least impartial.  His hair is too white, but there are places on his skull, places with scars, where the hair will never grow back.  His eyes are restless.  They dart ever sidewise, as if something wicked lurks just past the edge of his vision.
 That he is cynical and sarcastic will come as no surprise after that introduction.

3. Find the Core of the Character

Characters, no less than other elements of your fiction, need to be researched. We have a few broad strokes now, but we must drill deeper to understand the Character. Investigate their
  • Historical setting when she or he lived
  • Locations where she or he lived
  • Ethnicity
  • Social background
  • Education
  • Religious background
  • Occupations
Nothing throws the reader out of a story like an unrealistic detail. If your Character is a glass-blower, you must research glass blowing. If she is a daughter of a Presbyterian parson, you need to learn something about Presbyterian parsons, and how they raise their daughters. If she was born in the 1960s and raised then in the 1970s and 80s, in Iowa, learn something about mid-century Iowa. This research may be done through books, or through interviews or travel.
For example, when John Dunning was considering a novel involving a Washington State Ferry that disappears on the Bay due to the Bermuda Triangle shifting location, he contacted WSDOT and asked for information. They happily sent him schedules, deck plans, ferry names, and a host of other datan-- most of it nowadays available on the Web. [Later, when he had decided that a disappearing ferry was not "his" book, he gave the idea to me and I used it for the novella "Dawn and Sunset and the Colours of the Earth." I drew as well on my own visits to Seattle for background and descriptions and on Nancy Kress, who was living there at the time.] 
Even if your Character is an Elf or lives in a future society, this work must be done. What are elves like, what are the features of the future world? In some ways, this may be more difficult than using historical characters or or those living in the present world. For example, for Pastor Dietrich in Eifelheim, the one word answers to the points raised above were:
  • Time: 1348
  • Location: Schwartzwald, Mark Baden
  • Ethnicity: Schwäbisch
  • Social background: Born lower class
  • Education: Univ. of Paris, master of arts
  • Religious: Catholic
  • Occupation: Parish priest
Most of these required some degree of research. What was the recent history of Baden? Who was the Markgraf? What would Dietrich have read at the Paris Uni? There was a peasant uprising in the Baden twenty years before the novel begins. How was Dietrich affected by it? And so on. Some of this was researched  while writing -- I didn't need to know the name of the ruling graf, but it was a bit of color I could put in during revision. but that runs the risk of having to go back and rewrite something that has become incompatible with history or doctrine or Paris.

3. Find the Character's Core

The Main Motivating Trait will color all the Character's actions. If he is proud, pride will inform in some way whatever he does. This can be revealed to the Reader in various was, for example
By Action
  • When Adam saw the bloody body in the library, he shouted in alarm, “Gareth! Oh my God! Oh my God!” and nearly swallowed his fingers.
  • When Betsy saw the bloody body in the library, she began to search for a weapon. Gareth had been stabbed; but with what?
  • When Carl saw the bloody body in the library, he looked about warily. Gareth’s killer might still be nearby.
  • When Debbie saw the bloody body in the library, she muttered, “So someone finally did the rotter in.”
  • When Eddie saw the bloody body in the library, he crossed himself and prayed for Gareth’s soul.
 By Words
  • “I’d like to loan you the money, boy,” Cavendish told his nephew. “I really would. I like you. But do you truly need it?” He looked at the contract Lance had shown him. “And do you need this much?”
  • Cavendish compared the two cell phones. He didn’t need all the frippery on the second. The first would serve, and it cost two-thirds as much. “I’ll take this one,” he told the clerk.
  • “Be sure to turn off the lights before you retire. And make sure all the windows are closed. I’m not air-conditioning the world, y’know.”
Of course, the Author could just say that "Cavendish was stingy," but that would be telling, not showing. Character may be revealed by
A change in appearance or expression
    Adam’s smile froze and he turned white when he saw the cop.
Subtle action
    Adam sighed with resignation as the policeman approached.
Obvious action
    Adam mutely stuck both wrists out and waited for the cuffs.
    “Go ahead and arrest me,” he said.
Narrative analysis
    Adam's first impulse was to run, but he thought that in jail he would at least be safe.
Characters will have multiple traits. For example, Nero Wolfe is honest, just, and indolent. So he can react with honesty, justice OR indolence.
Do not change traits to suit plot. If Adam is shown as selfish throughout, he cannot suddenly solve the Main Story Problem by heroic self-sacrifice. At least, not without foreshadowing. Cf. Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

4. Add Paradoxes

The Character's Core implies other traits: If your Character grew up on a farm, then then he is probably familiar with animals and with jackleg mechanics from tinkering with farm  equipment. If she is a stockbroker, then… probably not so much, although she may know mathematics, computer modelling, finance,  and other arcana which, like our farmer's skill set stem from their occupations. IOW, some traits are logical consequences.
But if all the Character's traits were simply consequences, the Character would become a Stereotype. Paradoxical traits are consistent with the Main Motivating Trait but do not stem from it. Nero Wolfe has a formidable intellect and a fierce sense of justice. But he also drinks beer and... breeds orchids. So, too, may our farmer enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and our stockbroker collect butterflies. 

5. Fleshing Out the Character

Now it's time to give that bundle of traits a bit of decoration, to put flesh on the bones. 
a) Behaviors are not traits, but may reveal traits. They include verbal tics, habits, clothing, and  the like. Adam says 'y'know' when he speaks; Betsy often ends sentences with a Wisconsonite's "aina?" Chuck habitually picks his teeth with a wooden matchstick; Debbie twirls her finger in her hair. Perhaps Lance expresses his flamboyance by wearing brightly colored berets; while Cavendish's shows his stinginess by use of a squeeze-open change purse.  
b) Emotions – how does the Character feel in the scene? You may not reveal these feelings to the Reader all the time, but the Author ought to know what they are. When Adam sees Betsy across the crowded room is he happy? wistful? envious? enraged? Whatever he feels, it will inform his actions and dialogue in that scene.

c) Attitudes, values, concerns.
Don't make your Character your personal soapbox. He should express all the things he believes in, not all the things you believe in. The Author ought to be able to write with empathy a Character whose attitudes, values, and concerns differ from his own. For example, don't make your antagonist a bundle of all-the-values-I-don't-like. Remember, Hitler was a vegetarian and loved animals. Maybe Lance is a womanizer, but maybe he also gives generously to charities. Such paradoxes of attitudes and values keep the characters interesting, Otherwise, they are reduced to Caricatures.Caricatures.

 The Backstory

One of the things that gives your Character dimension is his or her backstory.
This consists of past events and influences that
  • directly affect the front story OR
  • shape the character without being explicit 
The Backstory often provides the Motives for the Character's actions. For example, Lawrence Block's Character, Matt Scudder is an alcoholic ex-cop (so far, a stereotype) who also gives 10% of any money he collects to the poor box of the nearest church (hunh?). We learn in the course of the novel Eight Million Ways to Die that while off-duty one day, he busted up a murder-robbery, killing two of the killers and wounding the third. For this, he was given a medal. But one of his shots had ricocheted and killed a young girl. That was why he quit the force, dove deeper into the bottle, and compulsively tithes.

Write a Character biography, addressing his
  • Physiology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
Then throw it away. You will be tempted after all that work to tell the Reader all about it, leading to the Dread Infodump. The Reader doesn’t need to see the whole background. But you need to know it.

Michael Collins suggests you create the backstory as you go. Revising it as needed.
"Something may happen in the present [the story] and I’ll say, “I have to change the past.”
– Michael Collins
Create a character questionnaire, a set of questions to ask each major character in your story.Then, interview each character in your imagination.
It will be ess important what happened to them than how they felt about it.
Compare the character bios side-by-side to ensure that their traits are distinct and to predict how they’ll interact when they are in a scene together. 
Create a chronology that shows the changes that the character will experience over the course of the story. It may be helpful to extend this character arc to cover events before and after the story

Call Me Ishmael

The Character should have a  name. In fact, that is usually the first thing the Author does, although sometimes the Author will change the name later on. TOF once wrote a story, "The Promise of God," with a minor character named Alice but halfway through changed her name to Agnes.

In mainstream fiction, Characters generally get mainstream names, but it is useful to come up with names off the beaten track. These can be more memorable. Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Travis McGee, Matthew Scudder, Luke Skywalker are examples. The following are character names from my own SF novel, The Wreck of the River of Stars.
  • Evan Dodge Hand    captain
  • Stepan Gorgas    first officer
  • ’Abd al-Aziz Corrigan    second officer
  • Eugenie Satterwaithe    third officer and sailing master
  • The late Enver Bey Koch    engineer
  • Ramakrishnan Bhatterji    engineer
  • Mikoyan Hidei    engineer’s mate
  • The Lotus Jewel    sysop and purser
  • Eaton Grubb    biosystems/life support/cook
  • Fransziska Wong, M.D.    ship’s doctor
  • Timothy “Moth” Ratline    cargo master
  • Nkieruke Okoye    first wrangler
  • Raphael “Rave” Evermore    second wrangler
  • Twenty-four deCant    third wrangler
  • Ivar Akhaturian    least wrangler
  • Bigelow Fife    passenger
TOF has used telephone directories, class attendance lists, and other sources, often picking a first name from one person and a surname from another.
Another source of names  is genealogy. Look at some US Censuses. Among names dangling from TOF's extended family tree are Missouri Philpot, HB Hammontree, and Morning Brown.
  1. Avoid famous/shopworn names. You can combine familiar names to make an unfamiliar (and so memorable) name. Example: Donna + Veronica → Donica
  2.  Make the names easy to pronounce:
  • Bilbo Baggins is easier than Eshq’laq
  • Lavinia is easier than Eloweine (it's the same name)
3. Don’t give two characters similar names: Example: Craig and Greg. In fact, it's a good idea to avoid names with the same first letter and syllable count. Example: Evelyn and Emily both start with E, both contain LY, and both have three syllables. This is especially so if they must share a scene.

4, But siblings can have similar style names. Tiffany is not likely to have a brother named Billy-Bob. 

5. The name should be appropriate to:
  • Genre. Sebastian Gregoire would be good name for a character in a Romance, Orrin Sackett, for a Western.
  • Time  of birth. Wilma was a popular name for girls in the 1940s, not so much in the 2000s. No one in 1870 would have been named Skyler or Tiffany.
  • Geography. Check the naming conventions in the region whence your character comes. In Hungary, the surname comes first, then first name, then title. Kovacs Imre ur. In Tamil Nadu,the father's name is often the surname: Anthony George (abt. 20% of Tamilians are Christian). In Russia, full names are personal-patronym-family: Ivan Smoilovitch Petrov. It is not impolite to refor to someone by their unadorned surname: "Good morning, Petrov." In addition, degrees of familiarity modify the personal name: Ivan → Vanya → Vanka → Vanushka.

Distinguishing Your Characters

  • Different names and physiques
In The Wreck of the River of Stars, Abd al Aziz Corrigan, an experienced spacer, is from the Asteroids. His limbs are long and spindly and his skin is darkened by radiation-protective enhancers. Mikoyan Hidei is a young Amalthean 'elf' from the interior of a Jovian moonlet. She is described as androgynous, which leads to a tragic misunderstanding with another crew member, who thinks she is a lad.
  • Different suite of traits

    The Wreck of the River of Stars used the sixteen Meyers-Briggs personality types to define the sixteen characters. 
        Abd al Aziz Corrigan is sketched as an ISTJ: "Serious and quiet. Practical, orderly, matter-of-fact, logical, realistic, dependable. Takes responsibility. Makes up his own mind what needs doing and works toward it despite protests or distractions. Distaste for the fancy."
        Mikoyan Hidei, otoh, is ISFJ. "Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Works devotedly to meet obligations. Thorough, paonstaking, and accurate. Loyal and considerate. Concerned how others feel."
  • Different purposes and motives
  • Different ways of speaking
“Why ain’t we takin’ the direct route?” asked Vermain.
“Direct route blocked by debris,” Fanghsi answered. “Roundabout safer for niyōs.”
“Well, that certainly settles the matter, then,” Winnie commented.

In his historical novel, An Elephant for Aristotle, L. Sprague deCamp gave characters from different city-states different accents. The Thessalians speak with a Scots burr. Athenians with an upper-class English one. Spartans drawl; Argives used archaic "thou" and "thee" and "wouldst." Those familiar with ancient Greece realize that these accents are weirdly appropriate. Ionian Greek did not use an initial rough breathing, so Ionians talk like Cockneys.


  • Get ideas for characters from observation and experience.
  • Paint a broad concept for the character
  • Research character context
  • Find core of character/main motivating trait
  • Try out some incidents exemplifying that trait
  • Add traits that follow logically [or at least do not contradict the first]
  • A paradoxical trait will add character interest
  • Add emotions, values, attitudes to deepen the character
  • Add details, such as beliefs, clothing, tics, etc., to make the character unique and special.


Whipple ambled along the beach with the eager dog. Now and then, he threw a stick into the surf, and the Lab immediately dove into the water to retrieve it.
1. Give two possible interpretations of Whipple’s actions. Develop each into a character sketch.
2. Pick a type: Doctor, lawyer, gas station attendant, serial killer, et al.
Brainstorm traits/qualities that this person is likely to have.
  • Those which necessarily follow
  • Those which add character heft and do not contradict
  • One which is quirky or paradoxical.
3. Now imagine two doctors, lawyers, gas station attendants, serial killers,…
Brainstorm contrasts that would distinguish them

4. Interview your character. 
5. Write a short story about your character 
  • At a different age, outside the story context
6. Have your character write a 1st-person scene (not for the story)

7. Take your characters to dinner.
  • Imagine them all chatting together around the table


  1. Card, Orson Scott. Characters & Viewpoint (Writer's Digest Books, 1988)
  2. Kress, Nancy. Dynamic Characters (Writer's Digest Book, 2004)
  3. Seger. Linda. Creating Unforgettable Characters (Holt Paperbacks, 1990)


  1. Ehem.

    Tiffany has been documented in the 14th century, in that spelling, even.

    1. In other spellings apparently Tiffany occurs as early as the 1100s.

      In fact historical fiction writers call it "the Tiffany Problem": that things have to be left out that will feel anachronistic even though they're not.

      Another example is they were going to have the main character of Gladiator endorsing products in front of crowds, which gladiators did, but it feels ridiculously Air Jordans-y.

  2. On Character is Plot -- imagine MacBeth with Hamlet in the lead role, or vice versa.

    MacBeth would have just cut Claudius's head off. Except that Claudius would have known that, and perhaps had guards, and MacBeth might have to feign insanity to get at him. (One of the older stories did just that, apparently.)

    Hamlet would have heard the predictions, seen the second come true, and thought that it would be wise to sit tight and let the third fall into his lap. You'd have to make Banquo a worse character and betray the prediction to Duncan, so he fears Hamlet would usurp the throne, and then Hamlet might have to, in self-defense.

  3. I think Chrétien de Troyes actually wrote the first novels, in the 1100s, not the 1200s. They were in verse, but the characters' actions arise from their individual motives and feelings, not their archetype.

  4. "as Artemis did from the brow of Zeus"



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