Character Creation: Part 2

Like many authors, I do keep a character Bible and I fully admit there are lots of ways to write character descriptions, but this is how I do it. First of all a character description should take no more than an afternoon –maybe two. If you are spending months writing backstories, sorry but you’re wasting time you should spend working on your novel.

Step 1: who is this guy/gal? And what purpose do they serve in the story. If you cannot answer this question: this person is not a character to your novel.  If they are just a waiter or the delivery person, you need to decide if they are important enough to even have a character sheet.

So I am going to show you how I built Harden Alekos in Other Systems. (Note: there are no spoilers here, everything that fact that the description says you discover in the prologue!!!)

So I needed a ship’s captain. While I did consider making it a middle aged female, I ultimately chose to make him a middle-aged male due to the fact, I wanted a lot of tension  between this character and the protagonist who is a young female.

Step 1: Physical Description 

World Facts for Other Systems: Due to gene modification and therapies there is three separate species of human on Kipos. While some people have facial features that might show ancestry, nearly everyone of all three species of human has tan skin, brown or black hair, etc. Eyes in shades of Gold, Hazel, Brown, Black common. Blue eyes extremely rare. Green eyes extinct in Homo kiposi and the Homo garo, recessive gene in Homo khlôrosan.

Now back to Harden who is a Homo khlôrosan.
Species specific description:  Tan skin with embedded microscales. Gold eyes, Nearly no body hair except of heat centers (top of head, genitals, under arms.)

Personal description: Tall, but slender. Wiry. Due to body type and the way he smiles, he reminds people of his mom. Slouches. He has scars. Paternal Ancestry (on Earth): Greece, Maternal: French and English.

Clothing: On ship: coveralls over a t-shirt, on leave: coveralls over a t-shirt. Only times he dresses up is for off-ship dinners. Slacks, and a button down shirt and a jacket. No jewelry or tie. His underwear choices are not applicable for my story, so I don’t worry about it.

Step 2: Naming Once I know what they look like and their ancestry, I begin the naming process which I described last week.

Step 3: Character Description: Introverted. Has trouble relating to new people, doesn’t know how to make small talk. In social situations, he leans heavily on others. Loves puzzles. Social drinker, sometimes likes to have a beer when coming off duty, but never drinks to excess.

Education: Doctorate in Physics and Engineering

Job: Planetary Survey Team. Age when protagonist comes into his life: Early 40’s

Virtues: Loyal, honest. Loves his crew/family.

Vices: nearly constant swearing, can’t quite give up smoking.

Step 4: Relationships: Parents: Cole Alekos and Rosemary Finch. Raised by Mom, but after parents separate, she is a radio transmission. Loving, but slightly cold relationship with Dad

Siblings: Sister, Helen (originally -14 months) also due to the solitary lifestyle of space explorers: she is his closest friend.

Brother Mark (-15 years) He loves his little brother, but they only become close after Mark becomes an adult.

Offspring: Sterilized. Only offspring terminated in the womb.

Romantic Relationships: Primarily Heterosexual (though like most fleet brats he enjoyed bi-sexual experimentation in his late teens and 20’s.)

Okay, now while I think things like favorite music or color is irrelevant (except when it is relevant to the story) there are a few important things you can ask yourself and afterwords you will always know how the character will behave.

Step 5: Important Questions: 

How does he get out of trouble?

Intelligence. never violence.

Relationship Trail with Protagonist:

Since this would give away a subplot for Other Systems, I am not going to answer this, but all writers should think about it. Every single relationship has a trail it follows. Not only will it help with character interactions, it is generally a subplot to the story.

To write a relationship trail consider:
  • First Reactions to  the Protagonist
  • Protagonist’s first reaction to character
  • Major events that turn each character toward or away from each other

An easy romantic example is the “classic boy meets girl”, boy and girl falls in love, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again and they get married and live mostly-happily ever after.

An easy non-romantic example: When I was born, I needed my mother to nourish and protect me. When I became a little girl, my mother still had to nourish and protect me, but now was also the loving authority in my life. She had to teach and make decisions for me too. As I grew older I got more freedom along with more responsibilities. I fought her, but she never stopped being my mom. When I moved out, we became friends. It is possible that someday our roles will revert if I became injured and could no longer take care of my self or reverse as she ages.

So there you have it. An afternoon of work and I have a full fledged character and at least one subplot figured out. Woot!

For the other writers, out there, what other things do you find useful for building your characters?

6 responses to this post.

  1. I like your description of how to develop a character. I am not new to writing, have written most of my loooong life but am new to seriousness of writing. So…as a new seriousness, I have been trying to visualize my characters based on people I know. Actually, there is a photo I have of three girls on a bench that I can’t get out of my mind, so what I have been doing lately is taking photos of people and places that I find interesting. I figure if it attracts my attention, not just because it’s shiny, there is something there but maybe I can’t see it yet; so I take it home to study it.

    I wonder if it is plagerism to take a photo? Not sure.


    • Obviously I am no lawyer, but It’s not plagiarism to take a photo of something on the street, study it and write about it. Most of the time, you can draw it too.

      The exceptions would be public artwork and even some designs on new buildings can be under copyright: But that is to recreate the image. In the comic Out for Souls&Cookies 3, I contacted the artist to get permission to use an image I created of the Fremont Troll for example.

      However generally you can describe in writing whatever you want. First of all, it’s your photo.

      The only concern at all is one of your friends say “Were you writing about me?” so hopefully your descriptions are favorable!

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. Dare I say it…but I don’t.

    Anything I have written, has come from a single idea. And I sit down and type, not planning that far ahead, keeping the idea in my head.

    When I need a character, I pick attributes and write about them. The character develops, I write things, not knowing exactly why, but it comes back later in the story.

    Once I start writing a character into the story, their back story comes to my brain, and I type it.

    Maybe it has to do with my brain. If I want to remember a page of text, I cannot remember the words on the page, however I store a picture of the page in my mind, and then read the stored page when I want to remember it.

    I tried writing characters, but for me it never works, as I can’t visualize the character until I start to write and “see” them.

    Does that sound weird?


    • I don’t think that is weird at all. I think that’s terrific. Do you do any outlining at all (as in the plot) or do you just go straight to writing?


      • Well, If an idea springs into my head, I will usually use something like Evernote to jot it down so I don’t forget about it. But that is about it.

        Its quite interesting going back into Evernote once and a while and looking through the ideas I have had, some are terrible, but some make me go “Oh yeah, that was a great idea”

        As long as I don’t forget about it, it rattles about my head, growing, until I let it all out. But I usually don’t have more than one scene in my head at any one time.

        So it can be the case that I am writing, and I have no idea what is going to happen next. I just watch and read.

      • That’s really interesting, because I have to work really hard to focus on one scene at a time. Sometimes the other one in my head looks so shiny.

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