The Wailing Writer | the chaos of crafting characters

On a white background is black typewriter font, with light pink shadow, states the wailing writer.

Welcome back to my attempts at writing! This is a look into my process of completing my ✨fantasy✨ novel. Because of this, it may read like a guide, but *surprise* I am just learning myself. I am by no means an expert, I am simply sharing this journey to hopefully help people, including myself, as I go and make writing less lonely.

After fleshing out my villains, it was time to look at the other characters and understand who they are a little better.

πŸ„The Wailing Writer | wicked villains and their pivotal role in your story

A pink smudge on white background with black typewriter font stating subject:

developing your characters

When I’m reviewing* a book, I always mention how important characters are to me and now I have to write my own.

IMMEDIATE FEAR.

*I wrote this intro when I actually reviewed books.

I was dreading this task, to be honest. Characters are a massive part for writers and readers alike. They are who you fall in love with and remember long after reading a book. I wanted my characters to be strong and for at least a few to be likeable. How did I go about that? I had no idea and even after working on them for hours, I still barely have any idea. But I think I have at least succeeded at building them beyond “he had brown hair and snark for days” or “he was afraid of emotion, always putting on an act. In fact, he does a lot of smiling which doesn’t reach the eyes”.

Strange to be saying I still have no idea as this post’s purpose is to discuss how to write characters but rest assured this is mostly alright because although I need the foundation, I will discover a lot about the characters as I write the actual novel. These are currently just seeds.

A (ROUGH) GUIDE TO KNOWING YOUR CHARACTERS

As I have mentioned, I am no expert and, of course, I have searched the question “how to write characters for fictional writing” and received what seems like an infinite number of questions. Some very straightforward questions (what colour are their eyes? If they are a love interest, it will probably be blue) to questions I probably couldn’t even answer about myself. What a lovely existential crisis I had sprinkled into writing.

In truth, I hate every question. Even the questions I haven’t seen I hate. They are tedious and limitless because can you really know enough about your character. I mean, their childhood alone could easily be a thousand questions. Naturally, moaning about this isn’t helpful, but it is good to have a release regardless. Because it is overwhelming.

So, what did I do? Personally, I spilt the questions up into categories and filled two pages up for my characters, sometimes more or less depending on how involved they are in the story. Then I stopped. I consciously chose not to answer loads of questions because I think I am going to discover more about the characters when writing them, and they will inevitably change as I do. Is this a good decision? Ask me in a couple of months I guess.

Ta-da! Only joking… I hope.

The Checklist Idea

As there are many versions of this checklist around, you will be able to find any yourself. These are typically the main categories:

  • Characterisation
  • Background
  • Biodata
  • Flaw
  • Goal/Motivation
  • Self-Image

Today, I will talk about the process generally, especially areas I found difficult and tips that helped me.

Characterisation

The characterisation is important. The values, fears*, worries, and secrets (etc.) say a lot about a person and how they will react to certain moments. Therefore it is crucial to understand these parts of a character. However, by character 13 unless I had an initial idea of who they were before, it became hard to find strong individual answers for each one. I found it helpful to have a list of ideas to choose from after my brain could only could up with 5 different answers which is not enough range.

* Always, always include your characters’ biggest fears

Black typewriter font states a personal tip with light bulb outline to the right of title, all on pink background.

If struggling, you can pose a question. A philosophical, moral, or political question and consider how each character would respond to it. Both how they say it and what they say. Think “The Good Place”, the character responded to situations about human nature differently because of their distinct personalities.

Background

The background is a task I found especially tedious yet very important as everyone is a product of their past. In particular, the little questions opened up specific details to ensure the backstory was less “been-there-done-that”. There was a lot of ground to cover so I definitely got fed up with these questions at one every point; I mean childhood! Everyone knows how influential childhood can be. I mean, the big question everybody is waiting for is how did the parents affect who they became?

Yes, this gif is useful for heroes and villains alike.

Biodata

Biodata is simple, so I did enjoy how quickly I could tick this section off. It is very useful to have these descriptions written down as I quickly forgot/mix up specificities and for continuity’s sake it needs to be the same. From physical appearance (is their hair always magically smooth or not?) to hobbies (squatting is my passion, not my purpose), you need to know them.

INTERLUDE: I HATE DESCRIBING CHARACTERS APPEARANCE ESPECIALLY AS YOU REACH A POINT WHERE I ACCIDENTLY GIVE ALL THE CHARACTERS CHISELED JAWS. I’m basic and how else does one describe a jaw.

note to self: try to bring some variety into characters. thank you.

As much as this can be straightforward, you can run the risk of being too simple. People all look different to each other and your characters should as well. If you are relying on generic descriptions, go deeper and change them. You can use your words wisely.

Not to forget how little details of their character (quirks, hobbies, clothing, diet) are a great way to effectively distinguish who they are. To give them an image. You don’t need to make them “no one gets me” and do a Jughead speech…

…but it can be very successful at fleshing them out quickly.

~ for example ~

Flaw

Arguably one of the most important parts of creating your character or at least in my biased opinion. To me, it is the part that adds the most realism and it is more interesting from a reader’s POV. I don’t want to read about perfect people, who can relate?

I think the OG advice for creating character flaws is pretty bulletproof; using their strengths and values as their mirror image to their flaws, e.g. if they are dedicated and persistent it will help them out with solving cases etc. but on the other side, it will mean extreme stubbornness too. Or bravery leads to recklessness, compassion leads to being easily led, or careful consideration leads to indecisiveness.

Once again, when thinking of flaws, your brain may get tired and start listing the same 5 ones. Therefore a trusty list of mega options (1) (2) can be helpful. Especially as you can go through the list and maybe consider a flaw for your main character that you wouldn’t have picked and feel it out. What does it add to the plot? How does it change their personality? It is an opportunity for further distinction. It won’t always work but it is an interesting activity to try.

Black typewriter font states a personal tip with light bulb outline to the right of title, all on pink background.

Sitcoms/comedy media is actually amazing at writing characters, in particular their flaws. As they add to comedic situations, they are a main part of the characters. I will die on the hill that sitcoms can help you write better characters. *end of testimony*

I think it is important to ensure you don’t just pick pretty, forgivable flaws. Flaws are not there to create reliability or just sprinkled in to show a little depth. They are crucial parts of the characters. View them honestly instead of through rose-tinted glasses. Also, cruel traits do not cancel out good ones, people can be horrible and inspirational and important. Horrible can go alongside many things, in fact, monsters are rarely monsters 24/7.

Goals

The goals bit. I thought my characters had a purpose, but then… you ask me what their short & long-term goals and all of a sudden they are a potato who is going nowhere in their life. I often found the plot’s objective and made the characters’ goals fit into that box I have created. Naturally, the characters’ goals and plot do have to coincide, but this blanket way of doing it was losing the character distinction. Even though the character came from my head, they still need to appear as free-thinking individuals, and as their writer, I think that is how you should see them too.

This is where the short-term goals can be super helpful as they don’t have to be a grand career plan but something that says a lot about the character which you can achieve in a short space of time.

Naturally, after their goal, you need to consider motivation and means. As you did with your villains. But the most important step would be the conflict stopping them from achieving their goal. Having a moral and physical obstacle will add to your story (can it be linked to their flaws/values?).

Self-Image

This last section is pretty self-explanatory but I wouldn’t have thought about this without research. How do the characters see themselves? I think it is fascinating to consider because it can reveal why they behave the way they do and if they are acting to prove something about themselves is right or wrong.

How does their image match up with how other people see them? If you are writing a multiple POV novel, I think being aware of these differences is a great way to show the character’s voice in a roundabout way. For this, I recommend The Atlas Six Trilogy by Olivie Blake.

BONUS: growth (aka ch-ch-ch-ch-changes)

I was stressed about creating characters but the moment that caused me to slightly release my stress was hearing the advice “you will plan your characters out and they will become a completely different person as you write them”. It was a reminder that I am not carving into stone, I am just helping myself find the first step on a long road. Creative freedom does not stop just because I wrote down one fact. Plus, the character should naturally evolve as you write, to become a new person through the events of the story. Therefore whilst I have written down character changes I want to happen. It is no more than a sentence/idea as the changes whilst important are further down the road, linked to plot planning. That’s how I am doing it. How do you handle character journeys?

~ Biggest Fears About My Character Designs ~
  1. They are flat. Obviously, this is a common fear. You want your characters to feel real and have so many sides that they continue to surprise you in a way that makes sense. But what if they aren’t and they are all basic and boring and no one cares about them.
  2. They are all the same. I obviously have character types I love but what if I use the same character in different bodies again and again. I mean I have one sense of humour. I can only do so much. WHAT DO I DO WITH THE REST OF THEM??? I am genuinely worried all my characters will blur together and become carbon copies. I think because of this fear, I have made a conscious effort to make each one distinct, but the fear persists.
  3. I will make all the characters too morally grey or unlikeable as I delve into their flaws and more. Everybody will hate them because my favourite characters can sometimes be the ones people hate. But I love complex and flawed characters but people need to connect with/ root for them. *spiral* why do I keep adding more issues to all of them? *spiral*
  4. THAT AWKWARD MOMENT WHEN YOU MAKE THE CHARACTERS JUST LIKE YOU AND ARE IMMEDIATELY WORRIED NO ONE WILL LIKE THEM.
  5. The failure to execute what could be a good character because getting what I can picture in my head onto paper is *pained smile* difficult. All this planning could be useless in the end, but this is a problem for later. Yeah? Yeah.
  6. I let emotions for my characters lead my choices instead of what is best for the story. Your plot should be able to survive the absence of a character.
  7. I have too many characters. I think it is just a fact at this point. The list started off small, I promise.
~ Final Screams ~

To sum up, establishing your characters can be a little bit boring and long-winded. It makes you think about human nature too much and brings up far too many questions about yourself.

Then, FINALLY, at the end, you have these wonderful, dimensional characters that you love or hate (or both). But suddenly you think of The Raven Cycle and I am reminded that your characters are trash and most importantly, you are trash.

Afterwards, you have three options:

  1. Wallow in a ball of self-pity, preferably with an abundance of pillows
  2. Scream
  3. Defeat the self-doubt and empower yourself to write (and learn)
  4. All of the above, in that order.
~ Media I’d Suggest for Great (& Different) Characters ~

q゚ο½₯*.β˜†οΎŸ Plot Structure & Outlining β˜†οΎŸ.*ο½₯q゚

Black typewriter title on white background, saying how i'm currently feeling. A pink happy and sad face at each end of title.
A pink smudge on white background with black typewriter font stating quote of the day.
“Respect your characters, even the Β­minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s.”
~ Sarah Waters ~

What is your process of creating characters? What are your biggest fears about creating characters? What tips about characters have been the biggest help to you? What is the hardest step for you?

Advertisement

18 thoughts on “The Wailing Writer | the chaos of crafting characters

  1. Lol, your four options at the end are the most relatable thing ever 🀣 It might interest you to know that I take step number four in particular very seriously…

    Anyway, I really loved this and think you have a ton of great tips in here! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “make a flaw an asset” one before, but I absolutely adore that advice! It’s such a great way of making your characters more nuanced!

    Still, when I write, I pretty much throw any sort of structured process out the window 😁 My characters and the setting usually show up in my head fully formed – I tend to know them inside out from the get go and if there’s any information missing, I figure it out while writing and fix any inconsistencies later πŸ™ƒ

    Instead, it’s plot I have way more difficulties with. I never know that in its entirety when I start out – especially since I love having lots of complicated political fantasy subplots that are somehow supposed to make sense at the end πŸ˜… – so that’s when I start with the complicated charts and crazy note-taking… The characters just kind of have to take care of themselves!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha πŸ˜‚ honestly wallowing in self-pity can be a solution to too many problems πŸ˜…
      As you should, step four is a very serious step!

      Thank you so much Naemi πŸ’™ Making the flaw an asset can add a lot to characters, especially as things are rarely black and white. Plus it can be a reason why unlikeable characters stay in the plot perhaps.

      Haha it is actually comforting to hear that you throw planning processes out the window for characters. I felt like through research there was more parts I didn’t do than I did. Characters can fully act in your head and what a great skill. I think height was something I kept getting wrong it my head, if both at tall, who are taller etc.? πŸ˜‚

      I hate adding layers to the plot! It is one thing expanding the story, another tieing them altogether and thinking of a satisfying end point. I am certainly with your on the crazy note taking πŸ˜‚ I’m glad you characters take care of themselves!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this post! Thank you! It’s nice to know that someone else at the beginning of their journey is both obsessive and gung ho too. Your suggestions were fantastic and I shall certainly try some of them myself. I actually love doing backstories, but only the bits I enjoy if that makes sense?! 🀭. I definitely fall into the trap of writing cardboard cut out morally good characters who really don’t have anything special about them. Maybe using your guide will help me change that! Thanks again! Jerra x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Jerra, thank you sooo much πŸ₯° I’m glad this post could be useful in some way.
      I definitely like to obsess over parts when writing, it always feels there is more to do but exciting to see it all come together.
      I hope any of the tips you try out work for you.
      I love that you enjoy the backstories, there is a lot of different areas to look into so I can see certain bits meaning the most enjoyable.
      Writing good characters can seem to have less flexibility at times as their actions and motives are often predictable. Hope this helps ❀️
      Thank you so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love reading your writing posts 😍 I suppose my first question is: is your fantasy novel what you’re working on for NaNoWriMo??

    I love creating characters but even so I feel a bit overwhelmed looking at just how much needs to be considered πŸ™ˆ I think some people only really consider the biodata side of things and even then nowhere near as much as they should. Your examples of it are fantastic though and vary so much.

    I feel like we differ as I love writing up the background of a character. Although maybe thats just when I have something specific in mind that I like expanding on πŸ€”

    Flaws are so important I agree. Nobody’s perfect after all. And they will affect characters deeply. It’s important to keep them consistent too. People can grow & adapt to overcome a flaw but it needs to be gradual & believable.

    Omg goals πŸ™ˆ I think I’d relate completely to how you feel goal wise. I feel like I wouldn’t know where to begin. Small goals as well as major ones definitely helps though & makes sense too as everyone has more than one thing that they’re working towards. If all a hero longed for was to defeat a villian then they wouldn’t feel like a person.

    Ooh I love the self image point. Seeing how characters see themselves versus how others see them is fascinating. I imagine doing this is so much fun!!

    I agree that characters change too. Some changes that you’ll know are coming based on how the plot effects them and some that catch you off guard as they naturally grow, change & develop the more that you write them.

    Aww considering just how much effort you put into your planning I’m certain your characters aren’t flat!! I’m sure they differ from one another too. As to your third worry lots of people adore morally gray characters. Ah wait point six sounds scary. Making characters you care for suffer is hard. But important too, especially in fantasy. You can’t have dangerous worlds with horrendous villians & have everyone live happily ever after sadly. πŸ˜” but now I can’t help but wonder what’s happening to who & I haven’t even met your characters yet πŸ™ˆ

    I really can’t help but wonder what questions you couldn’t even answer about yourself?? Also I love the advise that you included from V.E. Schwab.

    How on earth haven’t I seen or read any of your recommendations for good character examples?? πŸ™ˆπŸ™ˆ

    Fantastic post as always. And good luck with your writing ❀️❀️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much πŸ₯° the writing posts are some of my favourites to do, I think they will be interesting to look back on.
      Yes it is my fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo! Trying to get this one moving a little faster whilst also reminding myself it isn’t a race πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

      Overwhelmed is definitely how I have felt during the planning, but when I take a breath or daydream in the shower or car etc. I am reminded that I can enjoy discovering who these characters are, it is just in front of the laptop screen when I panic. πŸ˜…
      I am glad you think I have included a variety of points to consider, it means a lot πŸ₯°πŸ₯°

      I am jealous that you love character background but I do agree that it is easier when you have a specific thing to expand on.

      Flaws provide the best characterisation and create compelling people. I completely agree about keeping it consistent and believable if changes occur. When done right, it creates the perfect character growth πŸ‘ŒπŸ»

      Goals are important but it is so hard to think of varied 10-year plans, everyone wants success in some form so trying to make it personal is the trick, and that is where small goals can help a lot I find.
      Exactly, if it is all about defeating evil, it feels more like a video game than fleshed out people.

      The self image consideration was really interesting and I did like the thoughts it brought forward about the characters. I am so glad I discovered this point!!

      It is nice to know you see where I am coming from in terms of character changes and how some will come naturally and unexpectedly as I write. It makes me feel more confident about going forward πŸ˜…

      Aw.. Thank you sooo much, your words of encouragement are so kind and certainly help a lot πŸ₯°πŸ€—❀️
      True, I love morally grey characters too. I often like how they interact with genuinely good-hearted people too, so I would like a few of them involved for that reason πŸ˜‚
      It is hard to make characters suffer, I’m attached now πŸ˜‚ I find fantasy plots that are not afraid to make characters lose the most fascinating ones so I am trying to be brave in making them suffer πŸ˜‚
      Aw… You feeling invested in my characters already makes me a little emotional πŸ₯ΊπŸ˜‚

      Haha I know it is troubling, it was like the 10-year plan (no clue) then questions like what is your biggest secret? What would I do to protect it? How would I react to my secrets being released? How would my parents describe me? How did my most traumatic experience shape me? A lot of questions I’d mostly avoid I think πŸ˜…
      V. E. Schwab’s advice was simple but you can see how you would easily and effectively get a character journey from it.

      Haha they are waiting for you πŸ˜‚πŸ‘€

      Thank you sooo very much πŸ’—β€οΈπŸ’—

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yay I’m glad you enjoy writing them too ❀️ and that’s very true, especially after you’ve got more of your novel done. Then you can see how helpful the planning ultimately was & how things varied from the plans too.
        That can be a hard balance to get. Once you get going the process of writing might suck you in though. And yay for fantasy!!

        Aww I totally get that. Sometimes the more you try to push ideas the harder they are to come by. I used to get ideas when I was trying to get to sleep πŸ˜… I swear the pop up more easily when you focus on something else πŸ˜‚ although planning a whole detailed person takes work.
        You definitely have!!

        Well I’m jealous of how organised you are πŸ˜… I haven’t written in ages as planning makes me panic πŸ™ˆ

        I can’t wait to learn about the characters and the flaws you’ve given them. I’m sure they’ll grow & develop well too considering how much work you’re putting in.

        Yes I can imagine that’s hard, making it vary between everyone. And thats so true. Even if a characters grown up being told its their destiny to defeat some great evil they’ll have other things they long for too.

        Yes it’s a wonderful point & sounds so fun to explore.

        I think I’ve seen a couple of authors mention it too before so you’re definitely not alone. The more you explore your characters, settings & plot the more some aspects will change as things click into place or events cause changes.

        I really mean them ❀️❀️
        So true, the way they interact with others & stir things up is always fun!!
        I so get that. You love the characters you create. But you’re right, those are the ones that really catch you off guard.

        Yep i have no idea of my 10 year plan either. Only super organised people do surely?? And yeah they don’t seem like particularly easy questions. Some could be fun to explore for characters & give you things to explore so i can see how they’d be helpful. Coming up with numerous unique answers is a challenge though.
        Yes definitely. Three points that you can really journey outwards from.

        ❀️❀️❀️

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank youu ❀️ it will be interesting to revisit!
          Hopefully, I am still waiting to be caught up in the writing but hopefully soon
          βœ¨πŸ§πŸ»β€β™‚οΈπŸ§šπŸ»β€β™‚οΈπŸ§œπŸΌβ€β™‚οΈ

          Haha yay we both match on the falling asleep idea box πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I do think it is the zoning out that helps the most!
          Indeed!!

          Aw… If you could see some of my written notes, you may not think I am organised. I literally can’t read some of them πŸ˜‚
          Aw.. You could write mini stories if writing is something you are missing, then you don’t always need to plan.

          Thank you soooo much for all your support πŸ₯Ίβ€οΈπŸ’—πŸ₯°

          It can be difficult. Indeed, they should have different goals/wants to!!

          Oh really? That’s great to hear πŸ’— Definitely it is a moving piece so you can’t always see the knock-on-effects of small decisions until you are in the middle of it.

          Thank you soo sooo much ❀️❀️❀️
          So fun to see how they all interact!

          Yay, ten year plans are impossible. People who say they have one must be lying πŸ˜…πŸ€£
          No, very deep and emotional questions. Interesting for characters though πŸ˜†

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Aww I’m sure it’ll happen!! I’m not sure if the emoji are character hints or fantasy in general but either way I’m excited for you..

            I guess it makes sense as you’re generally relaxed then and your mind tends to wander πŸ˜…

            Omg same here πŸ™ˆ not that I have that many notes but still. I jot random ideas down then can’t read some and can’t make sense of others (I put about two words expecting myself to remember what they refer to πŸ™ˆπŸ™ˆ)

            That’s true. Although mini is not my strength. It’ll probably end up a 10000 word long mini story πŸ˜…πŸ˜…

            ❀️❀️❀️

            Definitely.

            That’s very true. I think as you write more & more as characters you become more aware of how they’ll react too.

            I bet it is!!

            Definitely. That or spend all their time planning & never acting on them πŸ˜…
            Yes more interesting for characters than yourself. Thinking of their worst experiences can be eye ironing. Thinking of your own…not so much.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you πŸ₯° aw.. They were just general fantasy emojis 🀭

              True, mind wanders to random places at time tbh 🀣

              Haha yes that is actually what I do, I always think the two words will be so clear to future-me, but nope πŸ˜‚

              Honestly my story started off as a short story then grew into five books. At least it was a less intimidating staring point πŸ˜…

              Definitely!!

              Yess πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Absolutely! It can, haha eye ironing (love it, thank you spell check)!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh πŸ˜‚ well I’m still intrigued and yay for fantasy emojis.

                It surely does.

                Aww well I’m sorry that it happens to you too but kind of relieved it isn’t just me that does it πŸ˜‚

                Ooh really?? That’s a mammoth bit of growth there!! I think the more you work on something the more your ideas expand and grow.

                I don’t πŸ˜… sounds painful πŸ˜…

                Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s