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Miss Rebekah from Rebekah’s Reading Room >> guest blogged for me back in 2013. It’s great post on creating interesting characters, so I’m going to let her tell it in her own words.
Mrs. M. was very kind and invited me to guest post for her about writing. I didn’t used to like writing. In fact, it was nearly as bad as math when I was in school! (And that was bad.) In my years of writing, I’ve come to realize that there are three things that every good story has. Without these three things, you can’t even have a good start of a story. So, let’s get started.
As we all know, a good story would not be worth anything if there were no characters in it. When I think of my favorite stories, I don’t usually think of the plot. I think of the character because, let’s face it, those same stories wouldn’t be the same without characters. Sometimes the characters are animals or even some outer-space creature, but for the most part, the characters are people. They have feelings, problems, likes and dislikes; they are good at some things while a complete failure at others. In looks they vary as much as do those we see every day in the world. Each character adds an element to the story you read even if they are just mentioned in passing.
So, before we begin to write stories, we have to have characters. Come up with (that means create) three characters. I would strongly suggest that you use names you’ve never used before as that takes you outside your usual rut. Find out as much as you can about these people such as what they look like, what they enjoy doing, what their personality is like; are they shy and quiet, thoughtful, full of energy and enthusiasm, strict and stern, lazy, hardworking, lonely and sad, depressed, joyful, and the list goes on and on.
I know this is going to sound ridicules, but get to know your characters by asking them questions. What do they like to eat? How old are they? Do they enjoy being outside? Do they like to cook? Do they like animals? If they could go anywhere, where would they go? You might be surprised at how fun this is. 🙂 Believe me, once you really know your characters you won’t have any trouble writing about them unless you try to make them do something they don’t want to do. (I’ve tried that and it didn’t work. My story was stalled until I gave in and let Alan fight in the front lines in France instead of staying on a battleship.)
Okay, once you have gotten to know your three characters, write a character sketch about each one. It must be at least one paragraph, two if you can. (One can be about looks and the other about personality.) If you want to write more than two paragraphs that is also fine. Try to write the character sketches as though you were really telling someone about that person. Make them interesting! Try to make your readers be able to “know” your characters. Here is an example of what you should not do.
John is tall and has dark hair and dark brown eyes. He is handsome and has broad shoulders. John loves to be outside. He is 27 years old and works in the mill. John is quiet and thoughtful. He wants to be a teacher some day.
That tells me something about John, but it really doesn’t make me want to meet him or write about him. Here is an example of how I write a character sketch:
When Norman Mavrich appeared in town in his ranch clothes and with his cowboy stride, many were the admiring glances sent his way. He was not what many would call handsome, not having dark hair and eyes nor a high brow and a finely cut face. In fact, if you got a good look at him, most would call him plain and ordinary. He was tall and lanky as most of the ranchers in the area were, yet there was a look about him that was different somehow from the average rancher. His hair, which was usually covered by his hat, was brown and, much to his disgust, curled. When he saw a wrong, his gray eyes, usually so kind and sparkling with the joy of life, would suddenly turn to steel and flash with sparks of fire while his jaw became set and his lips firm. His strength had stood him in good stead a time or two with some hot head, though he much preferred to use his skills as a diplomat to settle things than his fists.
Perhaps it was his Christian character that made the difference between him and the rest of the ranchers. As he sauntered down the street with his wife or strode purposefully to the feed store for supplies, there always seemed to be about him a sense of strength, of knowledge and yet of kindness to all he met. Many people when they first came to town and heard of Norman Mavrich thought he was an older man who had been around for many years, however, that was not the case, for Norman was only twenty-five. He did have what few of the townspeople or ranchers had, a college education. He was quiet in his way, yet very determined in his convictions of right and wrong. Truly Norman Mavrich was a man of high standing in the community.
Note from Mrs. M: Not everyone chooses to create a character sketch in the past tense. You can (like me) create character sketches in the present tense and more “note like” for your own records, a little like my character biographies. It all depends on if you plan to use the actual sketch as part of the story or not. My own character sketches are not nearly as long and detailed, but if you can create them any way you like. Below is a Character Traits chart I use with my students to help them create exactly what Rebecca is talking about above. You are welcome to “save as” and use as a handy reference guide to help you create your characters. An example is posted as well. Click on the images to enlarge them.
Post your character sketches in a comment for feedback. Below the images are a few examples from eight years ago. Enjoy!
Sample Character Sketches
Jesseca Dawn wrote three sketches in 2013. Only one caution for Jesseca. Do not mix your verb tenses. Either create the sketch in past tense or present tense and stick with it.
24 year-old Dick walked into the ranch with a purposeful stride. While some may have called him arrogant, those who knew him, called him anything but that. Life had been hard on Dick, who was the eldest of the Leslie children. His mother had died on the way to Oregon and his father had died 2 years later in an accident in town leaving him responsible for his two younger siblings. But Dick never gave up. Though he hardly knew anything about taking care of the ranch he had proved a quick learner and soon stepped into his fathers place. He was a handsome young man. With unruly, curly black hair, a quick and ready smile, blue eyes that seemed to sparkle all the time except when he was upset and they turned as hard and cold as steel, broad shoulder’s, and a strongly built frame. Dick also has the strength of character and faith in God’s word, the Bible, that is truly rare in young men his age. He has a confident and determined personality that dare’s anyone to stand in his way.
Quite the opposite was his brother Clarence. 19 year-old Clarence, who had barley remembered his mother, was as much like her as a son can be like his mother.
He is very shy, and quiet yet, in a different way then his brother, he has the same strength of character. He also has a strong sense of justice, and if someone is being mistreated, it is Clarence who would come to their aid.
Clarence is tall, but unlike his brother, he has a slight frame, pale hazel eyes, straight, blond hair, next to his brother, he is considered quite plain and comely but to those who get to know him, he is a rare, and welcome friend.
Abigail Grace, being raised for the most part by her brothers was at 15, anything but the young lady she should have been. She was a perfect mix of both her father and mother. She had curly blond hair, flashing, deep blue eyes and a determined set of her chin Many people shake their heads and sigh saying to themselves, “Gail is a pretty girl but being raised by her brothers will never be a beautiful woman.”. She detests her fancy name and demands everyone call her Gail. Everyone does except her brother, Dick who teases her saying she will always be his little ‘Abby Grace’
When Gail isn’t busy with schoolwork or chore’s, she is riding around the ranch or curled up in her room reading a book. She is quite friendly and cheerful ,yet when her will is crossed, she is as strong willed and stubborn as her brother Dick. Gail and Dick have almost identical personalities and Clarence is often the peacemaker between them. She is considered by many a ray of sunlight and a cheerful helper to those in need.