Creating Characters

From time to time, I’m asked for my secret list of character building.  It’s not really “my” list.  I obtained it by taking Jack Bickham’s writing classes at the University of Oklahoma some years ago, and use it now in my own courses.  To most of these inquiries, I usually give the same answer:  read CREATING CHARACTERS by Dwight V. Swain or WRITING NOVELS THAT SELL by Jack Bickham.

But a response like that, while sincerely offered and genuinely helpful, tends to disconcert some folks.  I’m reminded of the advice I was given years ago when I decided I wanted to study Latin:  “go and buy a copy of Wheelock; you can learn the basics yourself.”

Sure.  Teaching yourself writing technique is about as easy as teaching yourself a different language.  Possible, but not very probable.

So with thanks to Bickham, I’ll be sharing a few things that I know about characterization in the series to come.

BASIC CHARACTER ELEMENTS

This very simple character checklist — or one similar to it — is something that you’ve probably seen before.  That’s okay.  Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.

Name

Age

Gender

Education

Marital status

Social and economic status

Family

Friends & Enemies

Job

Hobbies

Appearance

Clothing and habitat

Goal

Key background facts

Opinion of self

Others’ opinion of him or her

Characteristic entry action

Repeating tags or tag clusters

Some of the items are self-explanatory.  Others obviously need more elaboration.  We’ll start on that next time.

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