- You might start by asking your main character some questions. Alicia Rasley lays out 9 great ones to start with in her article on the Writers Digest site. Her suggestions will help you understand your protagonist.
- Elizabeth Craig has a few more questions for your characters in her article inspired by her interest in the PBS Inspector Lewis series which made her think "So much of our energy as a writer is poured (and rightly so) into the conflict the protagonist is facing and how they handle it. How can we best fit in the tidbits about the character—the non-conflict-related stuff that makes us love them?" Check her article for some help digging out those choice bits that we might have left untapped otherwise.
- Maybe you need a name for that character? Try Behind the Name, a great site for noodling out the perfect name for any character.
- Need some help figuring out your characters archetypes? Not quite sure what kind of character you're dealing with? Wikipedia to the rescue with their helpful entry on Archetypes, their origins and creation.They also have a great list of Stock Characters you might want to check while you're at it.
- If Wikipedia is too dry for you, try TVtropes where they have a great list (with click through descriptions) of Stock Characters too. What is a Stock Character? you might ask - their definition: A Stock Character is a one-dimensional character who is instantly recognizable to us from other stories; the gruff grandpa, the snooty cheerleader, the bratty younger sibling.
- Need more help getting the creative character juices flowing? Seventh Sanctum's character generators may be just what you're looking for. There's one for every kind of character from human to Super Ninja!
- Unsure who is running your story - you or your characters who seem to have taken on a life of their own? You should stop by Literary Agent Nathan Bransford's site where he talks about making sense of the character's inner logic. While you're there, you might also check out his articles: What Do Your Characters Want? and Sympathetic vs. Unsympathetic Characters.
- Margaret Atwood provided the following tips as part of her recent keynote speech at Belmont University's Ninth Annual Humanities Symposium. To help your reader keep your characters straight, Atwood advises writers to use character names that begin with different letters of the alphabet or to at least give them a different hair color. For example, Betty is a blonde and Barbara has dark brown hair.
- Atwood also advised that when writing about several different people, it’s important to keep their timelines straight. She suggests creating a chart for yourself with the years across the top and the months down the side. Be sure to put the characters’ birthdates in so you’ll automatically be able to determine the actual age of characters as time passes in your story.
- You should also check the world events against those birthdays so you know what would have been going on at different ages in their lives. Atwood gave examples like the invention of pantyhose which preceded mini-skirts and made them possible. Things like the color of appliances, carpeting, etc. used in homes at that time of your story are also important to check. Some folks still vividly recall the period in the ’70s when avocado green, orange and brown were all the rage in home décor. It’s important to get the details right, she says, or someone will write you a “nah nah nah letter,” as she calls it.
Now get writing!
Authors, be sure to check out our YA Mystery Short Story Competition - Mystery Times Ten. Happy writing!
This article may be copied and quoted as long as you include the byline below:
© 2010 by MaryChris Bradley, Publisher Buddhapuss Ink LLC, the proud publishers of The Last Track by Sam Hilliard and the upcoming Mystery Times Ten, a collection of Mystery Short Stories for the YA audience.