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.
Social and economic status
Friends & Enemies
Clothing and habitat
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.