Writing

How To Bring Characters To Life In The Writing Process

You’ve got your story. You’ve built your world. All the pieces are falling into place. Now, all that’s left to do is create your characters, but it’s not as simple as choosing a name and moving forward. You have to create each character’s personality and background story — you have to make them real. But, how do you bring a character to life? The choices you make for your character will make or break a story, and sometimes they even change it.

Visual Appearance

I always begin with how the character looks visually. This can include ethnicity, hair and eye color, clothing style, etc. Most of the time I have a pre-imagined vision of each character, and then I scour the internet in search of a picture that best represents the image in my head. Sometimes, I don’t even have a clear idea of what they look like until I do the research. Other times, the image in my head is so detailed I get frustrated that I can’t find anyone that looks like them. There have been occasions where I have no idea what they look like, so I look at images of people until I do — Pinterest can really be your best friend here.

Name

Names can either be extremely important, or just another word in the script. For example, I have one story that’s based off of Arthurian lore, so I gave all the main characters names with the same meaning as their Arthurian counterpart. The Arthur character is named Brennan, which means brave, just like Arthur. Another character I’ve created is called Guardian Erela, which means Angel. So in a way she is called Guardian Angel. Other times I’ve chosen a name and then came up with a meaning for it. Here’s an example: Khloe Marsh. Her whole life has been spent in orphanages and foster care and she never knew her real name. Then one day she gets to legally change it to something she chose. Although Khloe is just a name she liked, the real significance lies with the name Marsh. To her, a marsh is an undesirable place. Just like her. Although she believes that one day she will be wanted and loved, and on that day her name will change. Meaning that one day she will get married and take on her husband’s name. I did not plan this when I named her. It just happened.

A character’s background affects how they act. When I’m choosing their traits, I’m thinking about their background.

 

Backstory and Personality

I was going to make both of these aspects into their own points, but they’re so hand in hand that one can’t be mentioned before the other. A character’s background affects how they act. When I’m choosing their traits, I’m thinking about their background. Usually what I do is I find a long list of positive, neutral, and negative personality traits. Then I go through each word and choose which ones I believe fit the character I want to create. As I’m doing this, little bits and pieces of their past just start forming. Sometimes as things their parents have told them or dramatic events that have happened. This allows me to see how they got this particular trait. Don’t make your character too perfect. If you see that their positive list is longer than their negative one, then go back through and balance their personality out. Maybe it’s gonna be a good trait that you really wanted them to have but isn’t really necessary or a bad one that you were afraid to give them because it might make them a terrible person. The thing is, we all have negative traits that we don’t like about ourselves. Make it a goal of theirs to overcome it.

Once you get these three steps out of the way, things usually start falling into place. From here you can easily figure out their desires, hobbies, and interests. If you ever run into any difficulties, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere for inspiration. Get help from the internet or base some details off people that you know. Creating a character is fun. It’s almost like actually getting to create a human being that acts how you want them to act.


Video production school attendee Evan!Julia Kelso,18, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She’s an aspiring producer, writer, director who grew up involved in theatre and now attends Center For Creative Media, a Christian Film School. In addition to being a strong supporter of the arts, Julia is a left-handed, right-minded, introvert living in a right-handed, left-minded, extroverted world.

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