Character creation is a skill – which means you can get better with practice.
Here’s how I start when I want to create a character out of thin air:
I think of someone from my past who still sticks out in my mind and I write down a few things that made the person interesting.
I turn an inanimate object into a character. (Look around your home for possibilities.)
Then for each new character I have thought up, I try these exercises to get a well-rounded entity.
1. Write ten ‘factual’ statements about your character, then ten lies, then ten odd/bizarre statements.
Here’s an example:
He’s tall (plus 9 more)
He never wanted children (plus 9 more)
He wears shorts in winter (plus 9 more)
(The “lies” and “bizarre” categories help find the quirky nuances of your character – so don’t skip them!)
2. Write a back-story
Your character should have a back-story, because this can help you decide how s/he might behave in present situations. Here are some questions to answer about your character:
How many siblings
Level of education
How many (if any) children
What s/he gets upset about
What s/he gets excited about
What s/he really dislikes in other people
What s/he admires in others
3. Give your character a few contradictory traits.
And because no one is ever completely straightforward, a contradictory trait or two can really help make your character realistic.
Pick from these, or write your own:
The benevolent one – here, have this. I don’t normally give so you know it means a lot.
The thoughtful one – see, I remembered you said you liked this.
The attentive one – I want to spend some quality time with you – see how I’m noticing your presence and want to get close.
The humble one – I hear your criticism and I will take it on board.
The boastful one – look at me, I’ve achieved something, I want praise.
The bad-tempered one – I haven’t eaten / haven’t got any money / haven’t had sex.
The self-pitying one – I wish I knew where I went wrong. Why aren’t I achieving? Why doesn’t anyone love me?
4. Make some relationship goals!
In which ways would your character behave differently when interacting with:
– their mother
– a boss
– their friend(s)
– the neighbor
– their lover(s)
Without well-developed characters, your fantastic story may seem dull and lifeless.
AND BONUS: If you don’t have a good idea for a story yet, start with great characters and you could find they write a story for you!