Tips for Creating Fictional Characters - Writer's Digest

Tips for Creating Fictional Characters

Craft characters that initiate exciting action, react to tense situations and power the plot from beginning to end. Kress, award-winning author and Writer's Digest columnist, reveals the fundamentals of creating characters that keep readers spellbound.
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Need help with characterization and character growth in your fiction? Listen to Nancy Kress, Writer's Digest Fiction columnist, in her book, Dynamic Characters:

You the novelist not only have to know who your protagonist is, you also have to know who he becomes. . . .

  • Not all protagonists need to change. Exempt are the protagonists of satires, series action novels, outrageous romps and books whose point is that human beings are hopelessly stuck.
  • If your character does change, give us evidence beforehand that he is capable of being more than he is.
  • Dramatize the moment of change through what he does, not just says or thinks. . . .

This is anonymous, and very old:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes destiny.

Although probably written to apply to real people rather than fictional ones, the verse nonetheless encapsulates principles of character change:

  • Your character should demonstrate qualities that foreshadow change (thoughts and/or words).
  • He should be pressured by story events into behaving differently (actions, which make up plot).
  • The new behavior should be validated for us so we know it is now part of him (character).
  • And then he can go on, a changed man, to his destiny.

For more characterization tips and instruction, check out Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated.

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