Easy Ways to Build Your Novel’s Character

The Last Supper

After we get our writing noses back to the grindstone, we’re all faced with making our stories come to life. You’ve heard the saying, “Character is Story and Story is Character?” It’s true!
Writing Tip for Today: As you develop your lead character, supporting cast and any others in your novel, take advantage of these easy ways to create characters that will leave a lasting impression upon readers.

  • Write the Sympathy Factor. You’ve no doubt heard that your lead character must be likable.  While this isn’t always possible, a reader must in some way identify with this figure–there must be something about the character which triggers a visceral response in the reader.The reader must CARE what happens to him/her. Making your character apathetic, undecided or passive may be the way real life is, but in most cases, fictional characters must be more definite.
  • Use Dialogue, Tags and Other Gimmicks Wisely. If you get feedback that “all your characters sound a lot like you,” do a little field research. Go to a restaurant, food court, mall or park and listen with your notepad or tablet at the ready. Jot down interesting scraps of dialogue, and use them to build a unique and distinct cast for your story. Character tags (a guy who is always smoking a cigar, jingling change, etc) are OK but use them judiciously–and don’t rely on them. They’re gimmicks, and can become quickly tiresome.
  • Keep Asking WHY? Motivation is often one of the slipperiest aspects of character building. In your first draft, you may not understand what makes your character tick. But you’ll likely have a sense of some deep fear, shame, anger or other strong emotion. Keep following that bread crumb trail to the beginning, so you’ll know exactly why your character is the way she is.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

6 comments on “Easy Ways to Build Your Novel’s Character

    • Hi Michelle!
      Knowing your character’s true motivation will guide the attitude and actions of that character. I often don’t really understand completely until I’ve finished at least the first draft. Keep Writing and Happy New Year to you!

  1. Hi Linda!

    Just found your blog and found this GREAT post! I tweeted it (from @SusansPromises – I followed you, too)and can’t wait to read the rest of your posts. This information would have come in handy while writing my first book!

    Keep the great posts coming!


    • Welcome, Susan! I post here Mondays and Wednesdays. You might want to check out my alter ego Miss Crankypants on Tuesdays & Thursdays. Keep Writing! ~Linda

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