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Toolbox Tuesday: Creating Characters

This week for Toolbox Tuesday we are going to switch from prose to content, specifically characters. After all, characters are an integral part of any novel. I have stuck with some rather sloppy reads as far as prose and structure, especially from newbie authors, simply because the characters popped from the page and I CARED about what was happening to them.

I previously discussed how to use the four temperaments in creating characters here. While using the four temperaments oftentimes gives me a rough idea of the character(s), it it merely a beginning. I then have to get to know my character inside and out.

Tip #1: Spend a GREAT deal of time with your characters BEFORE writing.

So often, young and newbie authors wish to jump into the writing. Scenes are flashing through their head, and the compulsion to get them down on paper is

maddening. Feel free to write the scenes ONLY to make sure you do not lose them.

Then, go back to spending time with your characters.

I oftentimes spend a month or longer just working on my characters with a new book. (This time frame can vary depending on the size of the book and the number of characters.) I create detailed files not only of physical characteristics, but also vital statistics (birthdate, place, parents, school history, etc., etc.). I take notes on first time experiences, relationships both positive and negative, faith issues, how the character feels about themselves and others, and on and on. A number of charts can be found on the internet to aid authors with compiling this information.

You can probably NEVER have too much information on your main characters, and MOST of what you do have will never make it into print in the book. The information will, however, find its way into your character’s actions and decisions.

Doing likewise with minor characters is important as well, although the information might not be as detailed.

Tip #2: Use the archetypes!

Archetypes are based on the idea that all heroes/heroines fall into one of several different character types (chief, bad boy, waif, librarian, etc.) with traits specific to those types. While it is possible for characters to be a blend, it is not advisable for authors to blend more than TWO of those types. For newbie authors, its not advisable to blend at all. When characters begin to exhibit three or more archetypes, the character is suddenly “all over the place” as far as how they feel and deal with the events happening around them. The reader becomes confused and finally tosses the book out of frustration.

One of my all time “must have” reference books, while getting to know the characters and determining their archetypes, is The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden and Caro LaFever. This book is practically attached to my hip during the early stages of creating my characters, and I use it quite a bit even when writing to determine how a character will react or to see if a reaction is “in character.”

Cowden and LaFever take the hero and heroine archetypes and detail the characteristics of each, as well as possible back stories, childhood issues, and examples from film and literature. Cowden further provides a framework for not only how the hero/heroine of various types react off of each other, but also how pairs (friends) will as well.

The result is an easy read as well as a great reference aid that makes the task of getting to know your character much easier.

Cowden and LaFever’s book is available in paperback as well as a digital format. I have mine on my kindle.

For a quick but thorough study of the archetypes, I suggest acquiring Cowden’s book.

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