Menu Close

Tips to Build Characters

When I am having trouble with a character, there are two things I have picked up over the years to use to help. I think I talked about it before: the Lord of Nightmares was the toughest character for me to write. He’s not human, even though he looks like one. I understood this, but not really. Therefore, when I first tried writing him, he came out too human and wimpy. At the time, I used a question chart I had obtained from another book. It asked about education, age, family history, background, appearance, marital status, etc. All of these were good, but none of them really fleshed out the character. The ones I liked were greatest desire, greatest obstacle to that desire, spiritual beliefs, and greatest fear.

I think that last statement says a lot about a character. I wouldn’t write something as trivial as spiders here unless it has something to do with the plot—like Indiana Jones and snakes, maybe. The Lord of Nightmare’s biggest fear? Falling from the top. That fear drives his actions and decisions throughout the entire book. In fact, it is a loss of that fear that causes him to make the decision he does at the end. In other words, certain events relieved the pressure so he was not ruled by his fear for a moment.

Besides that, I have also learned about something called a “Johari” window. Again, it attempts to dive deeper into what drives a character. It is a 2X3 table. The label for the columns are “Known to Self” and “Not known to self.” The rows are labeled “Known to others” and “Not known to others. Therefore row 1 column 1 will be listed things that are known to other and to self. Row 1 column 2 is known to others but not known to self. Etcetera. This really make  an author dive into the true description of a character and their makeup. I have given an example below of one I created for Pandora in the third Atlantis book. I left the last spot blank because these are “spoilers” for any who want to read the book.

Johari Window: Pandora

Known to Self
Not known to self
Known to others
*Born under unique circumstances: one-of-a-kind
*As ambassador to Atlantis, must take a boy back to Artemis
*Served in Military from age 10-14, change into a wolf form as a weapon
*Raised by Nicias (protector)
*Married young to a King who was assassinated. Now married again to Brasidas, an ex-Zeus military man.
*She can see past the surface of an issue and into the actual cause. This makes her a strong Ambassador.
*Presents herself with a confidence that allows her to interact with powerful people, may intimidate some
Not known to others
*Never thinks she can measure up
*Still feels guilt over killing her sister (wished it didn’t have to happen)
*Hates transforming because it reminds her of war and death

I think it is important for writers to find any source they can to fluff up characters. If the characters are flat, no one will care what they are doing in a plot. To me, a story can rise and fall as a result of its characters. These are just two things I use to help me avoid this outcome.