The 5 P’s • Creating Characters

I found this list of the 5 P’s to remember when creating characters on Pinterest and decided to write it out here as I think it’s very useful for anyone having trouble fleshing out characters.

Some of them overlap but I think there are a lot of good things to consider here that you may not have thought of before. I for one didn’t think twice about what kind of food my characters eat in the world I’ve created or what their voices sound like or their hobbies.

So many of these things seem unimportant while writing a book because you’re just so focused on getting it finished, but certainly during the editing process the following aspects are worth taking a look at to add dimension to characters that don’t jump off the page.

Unfortunately, I have no clue who actually created this list originally but here’s the link to where I found it! I hope it helps!

Physical: 

  • Age
  • Voice
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Height
  • Size
  • Health
  • Assets
  • Flaws
  • Sexuality
  • Gait

Psychological: 

  • Intelligence
  • Temperament
  • Happiness
  • Attitudes
  • Self-knowledge
  • Habits
  • Unconscious aspects

Personal: 

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Birthplace
  • Childhood
  • Education
  • Hobbies
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Lifestyle
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Profession
  • Possessions
  • Wealth

Personality: 

  • Wants
  • Hopes
  • Fears
  • Thoughts
  • Memories
  • Resentments
  • Dreams
  • Denial

Practices: 

  • Says
  • Wears
  • Eats
  • Buys
  • Works at
  • Plays at

As a reader, one of the biggest disappointments I face is reading about a character who is flat and boring. The plot itself can be riveting but if I don’t make a connection to the characters then that’s a big deal. Stories are about characters; through them a story pulls on your heartstrings or makes you grip the pages in anger. They make it seem real and they give the story heart, they make the reader care. 

You have to put as much effort into moulding the characters who will populate your story and bring it to life as you do the plot. Ultimately, a character that isn’t fully fleshed out can tank a story in the heart of a reader – it’s happened to us all and it’s what gets that 2/3 star rating on Goodreads when it could’ve been a 4 if the author just spent a little more time on character creation.

Think of your characters like real people, people with hopes and dreams and fears who have their own individual beliefs and experiences based on the environment they’re in. Once you think of your characters as real, even people you might be friends or enemies with, writing about them will feel much more natural.

What helps you create characters? Let me know in the comments!

The Writing Circle • WRITING PROGRESS

The Writing Circle is very important to me in terms of writing progress, but it’s something of a curse that has followed me around since I first started writing when I was 11.

The Circle is made up of a select group of people in my life – besides the mostly anonymous internet, like you fine readers – who I talk to about my novel-in-progress. This is not a large group of people and there’s a very good reason for that.

In the past, any time that I became super excited about an idea, I told people that I was going to write a book. This is it, I’d said, I’m going to write it! Of course, I didn’t write it. I didn’t write anything for a long time until quite recently, least of all the beginnings of a novel.

It may seem silly or superstitious but I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to announce my dream to people and then end up crushing it myself with my lack of self-esteem or because I give up on myself like I always do.

I’m fine with talking about it here because, in a way, people don’t feel truly real when you know they’re reading behind a computer screen. If they hate it, you don’t often know. If they hate it and comment how much they hate it, you can just delete it. You can hide from judgement and other people’s opinions.

For instance, if I do fail in my attempt to write my novel, I could (I won’t, but I could) just delete all posts relating to it or delete this blog or abandon this blog and never have to look at it again. In my head, there’s no harm done. My dignity and dream is intact, right? But if people I know expect me to write a book and then I don’t… what does that say about me? What do they think about that? Those kind of thoughts drive me nuts and make me second-guess myself.

It strikes fear in me and makes me nervous about continuing because if (best case scenario) I do finish the book, what if it’s then bad? There are so many obstacles that I create for myself and I know it all stems from a lack of faith, but it cripples me sometimes. This feeling of self-doubt and fear of humiliation really does affect how often I write, even though I shouldn’t let it.

Ultimately, I find the best way for me to write is to talk about my book as little as possible and to avoid telling new people who I know personally anything about it. Once I finish the book and prove to myself that I can actually do it – that it’s not just a pipe dream – I’m sure this cloud of self-doubt and fear will dissipate. For now, however, I’m going to play it cautious. I don’t want something I’m passionate about to crumble just because of my fears and the opinions of others.

I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Let me know in the comments if you’ve had these thoughts before!

VISUALISING PIECES OF THE PUZZLE • WRITING PROGRESS

Since I started writing my novel, I’ve come to think of the segments I write as pieces of the overall jigsaw puzzle that is my book.

Many different writers have their own style and way of going about creating, but I personally write totally out of order. I think writing chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3 etc. stunts the creative process and it limits what I can do with a bout of inspiration.

If I’m writing a chapter and I suddenly think of a great idea for a character or plot line that’s set in a totally different part of the story, I drop everything and work through that idea. I just find that if you write down the idea and continue with what you were doing, you lose the momentum and the passion behind the inspiration, and that affects execution in my opinion.

Now that I’m about a third through the story (in the written sense), I can start seeing the pieces fitting together, even the ones I haven’t written yet. I think writing this way gives you the freedom to change scenes around and to sneak in foreboding clues and clever tie-ins that you may not have been able to naturally do otherwise.

I used to write in a uniform way and I think it had a lot to do with my failure up until now. I never managed to finish a novel that I started writing, and I do place a lot of blame on the way I was writing, though obviously that’s not the only factor. Other reasons also include not continuously writing every day even when I didn’t want to, losing faith in the story, writer’s block (and not knowing how to deal with it), and work and school commitments as well.

I feel like I’m a lot more in control of my story nowadays, and that’s a great feeling for someone who is so used to giving up.

Creating Compelling Characters • Writing A Novel

One of the most important aspects of a good book is properly developed, compelling characters. This is arguably more important than plot when it comes to success (case in point: Twilight) and characters that a reader connects with will stick with them long after the details of a plot has faded. It is integral to create not only likeable characters, but characters with layers.

This is something that I think about a lot. I’m in the middle of writing my first book and, although I still have to map out some plot points, my characters need to be the first priority. You could have the best plot in the
world and the most pleasant writing style, but if the characters are flat and dull and forgettable the book overall won’t be as good. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of writing a crucial plot point and when you’re focused on nailing the story, the characters can fall by the wayside.

I find that the editing phase is when you can fully round out a character. You may come up with some stellar ideas for a character that seems to work while you’re writing, but upon re-reading you may see that it just doesn’t work. By the time you re-write certain aspects of your story, you could end up with a character that is entirely different to the one you initially imagined. And that’s not a bad thing!

why isnt this working

The Trope Trap 

Very often I find myself falling in the ‘trope trap’, where my characters seem to be generic stereotypes that readers have faced a hundred times before. This is a huge fear for me. We read so many books with similar characters, it’s easy to end up forming a similar one in your mind without really noticing that it’s not that original.

When this happens, you don’t have to panic and change the character’s whole makeup; the nature of a character comes in their decision making and their dialogue – it makes them real – so make sure to focus on this if you do fall into the trope trap. After putting effort into making them complex, thinking beings with intelligent dialogue that fits their character, you still might end up with a stereotypical character, but see how they progress over the story. At the end, you may notice some obvious changes you could make to add to their history, or to explain why they think the way they do, or to add small details that totally changes a reader’s perspective of them.

Break out of the box 

Don’t feel the need to make all of your characters beautiful either. I’ve read so many books where the main character is gorgeous and so are the two men pining for her affection. It’s always the same scenario: girl who doesn’t think she’s beautiful but is beautiful meets two equally beautiful guys at different times. Guy #1 is the strong, bad boy type who is kind of mean to the main character at first but then proclaims his undying love for her. Guy #2 is the nicer guy, the clearly better choice for her, maybe the best friend who has loved her since forever who usually doesn’t get the girl in the end. Although this seems to be a tried and tested formula, it gets very tiring after your 20th book with this same thing going on.

Avoid insta-love 

Insta-love is another thing you should try and avoid, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just the type of books I’m reading (which is mainly the YA, fantasy/sci-fi genre) but I constantly see this. A girl has spent less than five minutes with a guy and is willing to throw away everything she knows and loves for him. Now perhaps this is because of the demographic I read, and therefore the teenage puppy-dog, hormonal love is understandable, but I want a compelling, slowly built love story dammit!

Embrace flaws 

Just look at J.K. Rowling’s characters in the Harry Potter series, which are some of the most vivid and compelling I’ve ever read. She didn’t feel the need to make them all beautiful and they didn’t succumb to insta-love either; Hermione and Ron’s relationship started as genuine friendship and it progressed into something much more complicated and intimate. Their character designs, too, were so unique and Rowling wasn’t afraid to make them awkward. Harry wore glasses, had a lightning bolt scar and his black hair was always standing on-end, Ron was a redhead with an even redder face when he was emotional, he was poor and he wore shabby clothing and Hermione was an extremely intelligent, bushy-haired girl with dodgy teeth. With just a few small details, you can paint a very clear picture of these characters in your head.

creating characters
Art by Sukie Blackmore

When all the characters in a book are described as handsome or beautiful, all of their visual details kind of blend into one another. For me, anyway. Don’t be afraid to make your characters physically ugly or fat or disabled. Don’t make them perfect. Very often you can make part of what they look like a factor in the plot. As I’m on the topic, don’t be afraid to have different races in your story either, or create a whole new race of people with their own defining characteristics. This kind of approach also helps in world-building, but it also lets the reader know that you’ve really thought hard about your characters and the world you’ve built.

Background characters 

Background characters, I find, are so much easier to create. Most of the time, they exist to prop up the main characters and to drive plot points. You can really do whatever you want with these characters and you don’t have to explain it in the same way you would with a main character. There’s a lot of freedom here to add small, seemingly insignificant details that just add that little extra. You know the way in TV shows and movies there are ‘easter eggs’? Backgrounds and background characters are a great way to have a bit of fun with this kind of thing.

Overall, spend time with your characters and get to know everything about them. If you’re lucky enough to get a book published, thousands of readers will meet the characters you’ve created, and it would be a pity if something small about your character caused a plot hole or an inconsistency. Write out a list of questions that you’d ask a lover or a friend to get to know them better and fill it out for your character. Know everything about their life, and I mean everything. It could take some time but it is worth it in the long run. Naturally, you don’t take this approach with every character, but try it on the main ones and see what happens.

What are your tips for creating compelling characters? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Tips For World Building • Writing A Novel

When you first sit down to write a novel, particularly if it’s a large, ambitious epic, you can end up totally stuck when it comes to how the setting looks. I’ve faced this a few times, so I’ve put together a list of 5 tips that really helped me visualise my story and its locations.

Search concept art 

There is some truly stunning concept art online and I’m always blown away by the incredible talent. If only I could draw like some of the amazing artists out there! Spending an hour or two flicking through pictures of unusual locations/buildings can give you some great ideas. Even if you don’t come up with ideas for settings for your book, you may get an idea for a plot point so it’s worth a try.

Be wary of plagiarism, though. You can’t just take something someone has drawn and describe it exactly as you see it – it’s not your creation, but feel free to take inspiration. Generally I’ll look through a lot of different art at once and the combination of the art sparks some great thoughts and visualisations.

Look at high fashion photography 

I used to buy expensive high fashion magazines (back when I had disposable income!) as many of the photoshoots were incredibly unique and would give me some fantastic character design and world building ideas.

Keep an eye out for cool photoshoots online as well as they can be crazy creative.

Take it one location at a time 

Don’t try to tackle all your locations at once. Trust me, you’ll only end up with a jumbled mess and all your locations will seem really similar. You don’t want that, you want to try to make different settings unique and interesting and as detailed as possible, as it all leads to good world building.

If there’s one thing I don’t like as a reader (besides a bad plot), it’s shoddy world building. It’s as important as character development in terms of how much the reader will like the story, so take your time with it.

Travel 

Most of us end up writing our books in our home or in cafés and, let’s face it, it’s quite difficult to get inspiration and visualise in places like that.

Take a trip somewhere new, go hiking, spend the day near the ocean, bring your laptop to the park, trek through a nearby forest, go on holidays to an exotic location – do something to get out there and see actual settings in the world.

Quiz yourself 

Much like character creation, make sure to ask yourself plenty of questions about your world. Make sure you know the history of each location, what races are present, what defines the region, whether it’s near the ocean, what the social classes are like and whether it’s a poor region or not. Even questions like where the food comes from are important. Know about local traditions, whether the region is heavily religious, whether it’s technologically advanced, whether there are migrants, how they’re treated, if there are many languages, how much the past influences the present.

You need to know your world inside out, so Google a series of questions to ask yourself and take the time to answer them. Here is a list of 20 questions for you to start off with. I guarantee you’ll know more about your story at the end of the quiz.

What are your tips for world building? Let me know in the comments!

Naming My Novel • Writing Progress

If you’re following my Instagram, you’ll know that I’m writing my first novel. It’s a dream that’s been in the making since I was 11 years old, and until now I’ve always made excuses and let my doubts stunt my writing progress. Now, I’m proud to say that I’ve hit 10,000 words, something I never managed to do before.

I used to always abandon writing projects well before the 10k mark, so this is a huge milestone for me, even though others may think it’s a paltry figure. To me, this represents something that I didn’t believe for a long time: I can do this.

Now that I’m well on my way to that 50k minimum target, I want to refer to my project as something more than just a project, or ‘Untitled’ or ‘my book that I’m writing’. I want it to have a name, and I don’t mean the official title of the book, just something I can refer to when I’m among friends and family. Something that makes it real.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to call it, and I think I’ve come up with something I’m happy enough with: M.A.D. (or My Awesome Debut). I figure if I’m going to name it something before I pick an official title, it might as well be aspirational, and I have a major problem with being overly critical of my writing so I think this is appropriate.

So from now on if you see me referring to M.A.D., you’ll know I’m not mad myself and that it actually does mean something! I’m excited to hit that next milestone – 20k, here I come!

Are you writing anything right now? Have you named it? Let me know in the comments!