Building fictional characters
"It's not whether you get knocked down. It's
whether you get up again." ~ Vince Lombardi
Some Books to Help Out
If you click on the Character Chart link above, you'll find a free, really detailed chart you can use. It is
copyrighted by me, but you may copy and paste it into Word or another writing program, or print it out,
for your own use only, in building your characters. That way you can type in needed info, delete
sections you don't want to fill in, or even add some more lines. If you wish to share the chart in a
group meeting or newsletter, please make sure that my name and link are included. Thanks. ~
Perfection Does Not Exist
No one is perfect, and that goes for the
characters in our stories. The hero can have
a heart of gold, eyes as blue as the sky, hair
as black as sin, and a smile that can make
the sun look like it is low on voltage. But
come on now, shouldn't he have some
weakness, some part of him that is less than
perfect? Maybe he doesn't trust any woman
further than he could toss her. Maybe he is
scared of needles, and faints at the sight of
The same holds true for your villain and
villainess. Sure they are awful people, and
no doubt their souls are cold and dark?but
isn't there even one beam of good light in
there? Of course there is. The villain might
hate everybody, but maybe he has a dog he
would give his life for. The villainess
probably wishes death on those who defy
her, but the sight of a baby might melt her
cold heart, and maybe she would even
sacrifice something to protect a child. I'll
never forget the barkeeper from Dr. Quinn
Medicine Woman. In lots of ways, he was
this awful person, but there were times, when
this softer, good side of him broke free. It
made him memorable -- it made him real. He
wasn't just a cardboard character, but a
person with both good and bad inside of him.
A tag word or action tag can make even a
character that has a small part in your story
stand out or be recognized when needed.
With a main character, it can show a little
personality, a hint of tension, or just make
them seem more human.
In one of my stories (set in the 1800's) I have
a heroine who always says "hell's bells"
when she is angry. It's her way of cursing.
No one else in the story says this, so if the
reader sees that tag in a sentence, they
know who is talking without a doubt. You
could also have a character that has a habit
of calling everyone honey. Or a character
that talks with slang, uses bad English, an
accent, or whatever fits that character and
seems normal for him or her.
Action tags work the same way. I for one,
have this habit of playing with my hair,
twisting strands of it around my finger. I
notice I do this a lot more if I am nervous, or
even bored. I could have a character in a
story who has a slight limp, or the habit of
jiggling loose change in his pocket, sucking
on a piece of hard candy, or maybe
drumming his fingers on his desk.
Even More Links to Help Build those Characters
The difference between Cody and Egbert
One of the first things we need for a character is a name. It might not always hold true in real life, but
in fiction, it's necessary most times for the name to fit the character. That's because -- right or wrong
-- we all have preconceived ideas as to who a person is with a given name. If I'm speaking to a
female over the phone, that I've never met before, and she introduces herself as Ursula, Scarlett,
Desiree, or Hildegard, I get a picture of that person's appearance and character in my mind?I might be
way off, but it's there. So when I read, I do the same thing. I find that for me personally, Egbert just
doesn't work as a good name for a hero. In my judgment, Egbert, Egor, or Eugene just does not a
sexy hero make -- although you might know one very sexy guy with one of these names, it's not the
norm. So, what characters do names conjure up in your mind? Make sure there is at least a good
chance that those name will conjure up the picture you want your readers to see.
How to find names?
My favorite book or all for this is the Character Naming Sourcebook, put out by Writer's Digest.
Names are listed in categories like French, Norse, Spanish, Celtic, and even Greek and Native
American. They are also listed under male and female in each of these categories. Other places to
look include any baby naming books, like Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana and Baby
Names: A New Generation, a telephone book can work too, and there are many sites on line filled
with lists of names from different time periods, like the ones I have listed below.
After all is said and done, and all of those great names are jotted down on a piece of paper in front of
you, I'm afraid no one else will be able to pick the name of each of your characters better than you.
Who else knows them so well, and knows just which one should be a Lance and who should be a
Here's a link to my very favorite character naming book. If you are going to have only one, this one
covers it all. I've had my copy for years and years.
Name your characters
Copyright © 2000 by Charlotte Dillon.
All rights reserved.