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Character Alchemy: 10 Steps to Create Memorable Book Characters

an author sitting on a table happy about writing her characters
Creating Book Characters

Hi, my lovely readers. So, I’ve been doing a lot of writing on how to create villains, and it’s only fair I talk about book characters in general. So, how do we create characters that leap off the page and dance around your heads even long after the story has ended? Well, I’ve got a step-by-step process to make this process easier. Whether you’re looking to tug at your reader’s heartstrings with that swoon-worthy hero or sending shivers down their spines with your cackling villain, character crafting can be equally fun and daunting. But don’t worry, if you follow these 10 steps, it’ll become easier.

I usually have a Character Creation Cheat Sheet I’ve used for years; you can download it here for free!

Step 1: Ignite that spark

Sometimes, you have a story in mind; sometimes, you have a character that sparks the need to write a new story. Either way, you cannot go forward in your writing journey until you get that lead role auditioned. And it sort of is like an audition. You’re still feeling things out, checking out what works. Start with a quirky personality trait, maybe some part of a backstory that you need to expand on, or just that wild inspiration that won’t let you rest until you write it down. Start there - grab your preferred writing method, notebook, smartphone, or tissues; doesn’t matter! Just write the hell out of all those crazy good ideas running around in your head. At this point, don’t bother with perfection or process. Just put it all down on paper or screen so your spark doesn’t fizzle out.

Step 2: Create an ID Card for them

Here’s your interview. This is the part where you need to start building a structure. If you’re using my Character Creation Cheat Sheet, you fill in their basics in this part. But don’t duel too much on names and age and appearance. Those things tend to fall into place and change as you continue building your character. I am guilty of pouring over baby names to find the perfect one, but don’t be me! Pick one that makes you go, “Hmmm, that has possibilities,” and then move on. So, getting the ID card stuff out of the way, let’s expand a little with some weaknesses and strengths. For those of you who’ve ever worked in Marketing, we used to do a SWOT analysis for our brands. Here’s how I do one for my character.

a SWOT analysis for character creations for a book
Identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for your Characters

Step 3: Give them some skin

We all have a picture in our head when starting with a character. And even if you don’t, this step is where you sketch or find something on Google that fits the picture in your head. Or browse and find something that inspires you and build on that. We need to give them some skin and obviously some clothes! Trust me, you’d think they aren’t necessary, but they are. This physical description will give your readers a picture in their head, and that’s pretty vital. It’s nice to leave some things to the imagination, but we need basic mind-drawing here. If you’re an artist, go right ahead and make something. If not, go crazy with AI-Image creation, use your description, and see if it gives you something to start with. But put it all down so you have that picture to go with the ID card. As a bonus exercise, you might also sketch a little around them, a bit of their immediate world, to give them some context.

Step 4: Give them a voice

Characters aren’t just faces and ID tags. They also have a way they will speak and monologue on your paper or screen. That’s their voice. It has to be unique from all the other characters you create. It can be slang, catchphrases, or even an accent, depending on which direction you take with ethnicity. This is where you decide how they tell their story. Maybe they are witty, poetic, or excessively annoying with their explanation. This voice will be as much a calling card for your character as their ID. It’s the perfect way to write dialogue without the usual ‘he said’ or ‘she said,’ and the reader will immediately know who’s talking. Find something that will resonate and stay with your reader. One thing to remember: do not overcomplicate the voice. It also has to be easy to read.

Step 5: Give them a childhood

Because we all have one - unless they materialized out of thin air, all big and perfect. All characters are defined by their backstory. So, take a deep dive into what made them the way they are. Explore critical moments. Analyze and break apart their traumas. Dissect and understand their triumphs and motivations. This step will flesh out your character and make them real. Use the character SWOT we did and really explore the depths of your character's wants, likes, and dislikes. There’s a reason for everything we do, even the tiniest little quirk. Put it down for your character in this step. You’ll find that this process will give you a wellspring of motivations and conflicts to fuel your plot. Ooh fun!

Step 6: Give them flaws

None of us are built perfect. In fact, perfect is boring. Break them up, shake them up until you start to see the cracks. Those flawed, cracked characters are the most memorable. It’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. It is about embracing imperfections and finding beauty in the flaws. Kintsugi fills the cracks with gold and creates something unique because, let's face it, none of us break quite the same way. All our damage is distinctive to our struggle. So think about giving your character a weakness that can be exploited and then balance it with a trait that makes it memorable, like a villain with a short fuse and a soft spot for kittens. Humanize the hell out of them!

Step 7: Give them relationships

Our social interactions set the tone for our story, so how can it not do the same for your character? I mean, unless they’re living in the vacuum of space or a remote island. (Remember, even Tom Hanks needed Wilson in Castaway.) This is the step where you jot down their connection with other characters. Connect them with other story elements. Even if it’s a stuffy they sleep with. Create some interesting friendships, rivalries, and love interests. Each relationship will reveal a new aspect of your character and make your story a rich world worth exploring.

Step 8: Give them drive

What is the reason they drag themselves out of bed in the morning? Maybe there isn’t any dragging involved. Maybe they pop outa bed grinning and bouncy! (I wish that were me.) Give them some goals, big or small. Give them desires so they want to live each moment of the life you’ve created for them. How about a dash of ambition so they don’t want it to ever stop? We all have reasons for living each day, each year, each lifetime. This is about what drives them to achieve those goals and ambitions. Understand the key motivators for their behavior and choices in the story. Give them purpose; what’s the point otherwise?

Step 9: Show, not tell

This isn’t so much a step but a critical point to remember in your process. All of the details you’ve created are great. But don’t just put those details down on paper or screen in a lengthy explanation or description. There’s a difference between saying, ‘He’s always anxious’ and ‘His fists forget to unclench sometimes.’ Reveal your characters with prose. That’s the whole point of writing a story, right? It’s not a research paper. So, instead of stating what your character is, use their actions, decisions, or reactions to explain what they truly are. I usually write down a few ideas on how I can show certain traits. Like if my character struggles with anger, I could write something fun and unique that explains they’re angry – like an eyebrow twitch. Think about it. This is actually a fun challenge: show, not tell!

Step 10: Let them grow

All characters start at the beginning, change as the story progresses, and become something more than they used to be. Let them evolve. Those challenges you’ve thrown their way, those people they’ve met, those gold-filled cracks will irrevocably change your character. This is their arc. None of us come out of the soup of our lives untainted. We are all colored and dented and different from where we started. Each day, each high and low, will make us more unique. Do the same for your characters so they are relatable and thus memorable.

Well, there you have it! My secrets to crafting characters that readers will keep with them in their hearts! Just remember, there's no foolproof method to character creation. So be unafraid. Do it your way. Do it my way. Do it any way you think inspires you to keep writing. Oh! And have fun! Each character you create will become the heart and soul of your story. So, go forth, my lovelies, and take your heroes, villains, and sidekicks on some awesome adventures!

Don’t forget to download my FREE Character Creation Cheat Sheet if you’re interested! And my latest book ‘My Bad’ is out on Amazon and Kobo, so check out how I’ve used this process to make my bad boy Leon Siyah.


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