7 Tips to Carve Your Way into Your Character’s Entire Personality

Kate Feathers

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I’ve always struggled with writing characters. They felt two-dimensional, too idealized, not raw enough to find their way to the reader’s heart, let alone my own. However, there have been exceptions — characters who I think of as my children and will always cherish them. Characters who made me care for them to the point where I decided I wouldn’t kill them, after planning to do so for months. I needed to give them a chance. I simply cared too much.

That’s very good, though. I managed to create people who felt real, raw, original, people who made the story what it was. People who influenced me, the writer, the one who’s supposed to be in charge. Only I didn’t feel like I was anymore. It was more of a co-operation, some sort of weird friendship. I spoke to my characters, I imagined them nagging at me to come back and write as I was at school or shopping for groceries. Maybe my imagination is too wild. But then again, maybe every writer’s imagination is.

Further thinking revealed to me that what had helped me bring these characters to life were 7 methods that anyone can use to build their characters and get to know them better. Sometimes, a character comes to you like a shadow. It’s up to you to discover the real human who casts it.

Ask questions

Have you ever heard of the 16personalities test? It reveals what kind of a personality type you are, how you think, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your general approach to life is. It fits me to the dot. Why wouldn’t I try it on my characters then?

When you take the test from the perspective of your character, you get to know them much better. First, you have to click on the option you believe they’d choose. Second, you get a very thorough overview of how their whole perspective might function.

And there are more tests to take, more questions to ask. Is your character an introvert or an extravert? What about the Big Five, where would they be in terms of agreeableness? And what about their life in general? Ask yourself questions about your character’s favourite childhood memory, their first crush, one quality they cherish the most about themselves.

Asking questions will not only help you connect to your character, but it will also give you lots of material to use in your story.

Watch them act in different situations

If you feel like doing a writing exercise, try dropping your characters in a brand-new situation. It doesn’t need to be a part of your novel. Just put them in some new environment and watch them act. This can show you a lot about them.

Personally, I usually discover most things about my characters in the process of writing. I let my intuition guide me. I often discover my characters bit by bit, just by watching them act and letting them come alive on paper. It’s a useful and playful way to connect with your new humans.

Write in a diary as if you were them

I did this a lot as a teenager, and it was lots of fun. Instead of writing in a diary for yourself, try writing down your character’s thoughts. This is helpful especially if you write your story from the third person’s point of view because it lets you have a peek into your character’s head and see things through their eyes.

If they wrote in their diary, what would their writing look like? What energy would it have? What would they write about — their opinions, facts about the day or memories of the past? That’s up to you to find out.

Visualize them

I usually imagine characters in a bit of a blurry way, however, it still helps a great deal when I see my characters’ main features in front of my eyes as I write them. If you have a talent for drawing, draw them. If you don’t, don’t fret because the game Sims is always an option. I’ve created the characters of my current novel in Sims 3 — I moulded their faces, picked their outfits, chose their hairstyles. Apart from it being lots of fun, it also helped me visualize them better.

You can also think about other aspects of their appearance — how they walk, if they use perfume, how they speak (which is essential for how you write your dialogues) or what their laugh sounds like. I often find it hard to visualize these, and therefore I’d suggest getting inspired by the people around you. Combining specific aspects of various people’s personalities into one can be a useful way to create a character that feels real.

Think of them as a part of a group

Characters are often what makes or breaks the story. They’re essential in making your readers immerse in the story, care for the plot and come back for more. If your character is a part of a certain group, it’s important to take this into account when building them.

Think about what purpose they serve in the group, how they interact with each individual and who they feel closest to. At the same time, imagine them as an individual who can be self-sufficient and whole without any group. This way, they won’t feel like a simple add-on without much personality. They’ll be a complete human being, with or without other people.

Focus on their progress

Flat characters often don’t have much space to develop throughout the story, and therefore they don’t provide much value to the reader. If people can’t root for your character, hope for them to reach atonement or relate to their struggles, they don’t have much to hold on to.

People like what reminds them of their own problems and emotions — they like imperfect characters who progress. Because that’s what humans are. Always striving to do better, sometimes failing, other times succeeding. Two steps forward, one step back.

Make sure to show that your character has regrets, nostalgic memories or emotions to fuel them. Focus on their strengths and weaknesses — especially the weaknesses — and think about some principles they stand for. Is it honour they cherish? Wisdom? Survival? Loyalty?

Every human always has somewhere to progress to, something to strive for. Give your characters the same and watch them come alive.

Get inspired by yourself

When I analyze my characters, it seems funny to me that they all have something in common with my own self. Their foundations often even represent opposite sides of my personality. Upon further inspection, though, this actually isn’t strange at all — we all write about what we know, in some way or another.

We write about things that awake passion, drive and deep emotion within ourselves. Through your writing, you show the world who you really are. It’s no wonder that your characters can be a reflection of that as well.

If you’re feeling lost, not knowing how to build your character, look within yourself. Get inspired by your own personality traits, your own struggles, your own imperfections. It will make you feel connected to your character and it can become the basis upon which you build other aspects of their personality.

In conclusion

These tips have helped me a great deal when it comes to getting to know the humans in my stories. I plan to implement them even more in the future.

Hopefully, we can all learn to write unforgettable characters who will carve their way into every reader’s heart. What’s more important, though, is that they carve their way to yours.

Photo Credit: Min An on Pexels

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I'm a student of Languages & Comparative Literature who writes about relationships, feminism and personal growth. Discover more of my work: https://linktr.ee/clumsylinguist

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