Speaking of Your Characters

Speaking of Your Characters - Tips for Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love

Sometimes, when a story gets stuck, it helps to go back and spend more time with your characters. Their needs and fears drive your story, but if you haven’t investigated what motivates their daily lives, it can be tough concocting realistic conflicts for them to overcome in  your story.

Character Template – Fears, Values

One place to start is with a character sketch. A template for one to start with is here. If you know what your character is afraid of or what your character values most, you have some great starting places for putting your character in tough situations that force him or her to overcome those fears or risk losing what is valued most. The thing that they value doesn’t have to be a concrete object, though it can be. Consider a grandfather ‘s watch, or an old photograph, or a painting. It can also be abstract, such as honesty. If a person values honesty, how will she react when she is lied to. How will she react if she is put in a position where she has to tell a lie? People can be afraid of things like snakes (think Indiana Jones) or confined spaces–and making characters face these can be fun. They might also be afraid of someone finding out something from their past–that they lied, or that they cheated, or hurt someone on purpose. See the paragraph on secrets below.

Lisa Cron – Misunderstandings

I highly recommend Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* {*before you waste three years writing 327 pages that go nowhere}. Aside from having the longest book title I’ve ever come across, the book suggests innovative ways into character upon which you can build a strong story. One tip that Cron suggests is that you create a misunderstanding for your character that influences future decisions. If you character was abandoned by his father as a child, he may grow up feeling he could never be a dad because he was never shown how and secretly wonders if he would run away from the responsibility, too. You can see how this misunderstanding would affect the man’s decisions about relationships and volunteering for the local scout troop. Cron’s book is an easy-to-read guide to building a great story, and full of wonderful tips that are immediately applicable to what you are working on–and no, she doesn’t have a clue who I am or that I am writing this. Her website is here.


I like to make sure that my characters have a secret. Ask your characters about the one thing about them that they hope no one will ever discover. It’s often something that they are ashamed of. Make sure that somewhere in your story, they have to deal with this secret. It’s a great source for internal conflict. Perhaps the secret is that your hero was adopted and when he found his birth mother, she was working as a foreman in a factory. He never tells her who he is, and she doesn’t know who adopted him. He was raised by a wealthy family and doesn’t want anyone to know that his real mother is a factory worker. He is a lawyer with a prominent firm. In the story, his girlfriend’s family (also rich) buys the mother’s factory and threatens to close it down. The real mother leads a committee to fight for the factory to stay open, and they hire the law firm where the man works. The man is torn between his two families, between his duty as a lawyer and his obligation to his girlfriend’s parents …. You get the idea.

Secrets, misunderstandings, fears, values–use some of the tips above, and see what you can do to create characters that your readers will love.

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.



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