Of all the topics on how to write, I suspect more books have been written on how to create solid characters than on anything else. So there are a lot of great resources out there on how to create characters, and I can’t even touch on every topic that I would like in the space of an article this short.
Let me just say a few things, though.
We are often told that our characters should be “round,” rather than stick-figure drawings. If you were an artist and you painted a picture with stick figures, people would say, “Well, that’s not very realistic. It is hardly recognizable as human.”
The artist tries to create characters who have the dimensions of real people. The same is true with people in stories. They have (but are not limited to) the following attributes:
1) Real people have physical bodies with inherent limitations and strengths.
These bodies get hungry, hurt, and have urges all their own. They also have a history of ailments and injuries, various scars, and of course plenty of traits that we may or may not want to include in our tale—including things like foot size, ear size and shape, and so on. Trying to describe some of these traits is danged near impossible.
2) Real people have families and friends.
In young adult literature, just about everyone is an orphan. That’s because editors don’t want authors to have to deal with family issues, just focus on the kids. Yet far too often, authors don’t create extended families primarily out of laziness. Similarly, each of us has various levels of friends, business colleagues, people we are attracted to, and people who are attracted to us at some level. We might include in this list of associations things like pets and plants. Does your heroine keep African violets around the house, and tenderly nurse her geraniums? A likeable character is usually one who show kindness to others, who seeks out deep and lasting commitments—even if it is just to her flowers.
3) Real people have jobs—usually a history of them.
For example, I’ve been a meat cutter, a prison guard, a missionary, a movie producer, novelist, video game designer, technical writer and editor, grocer, gourmet ice-cream pie maker, and farmer. In the modern world, we tend to develop large skill sets as we age, but there was a time when a person started life as a farmer and ended up buried out by the grape vines.
4) Real people also have a place in society.
These societies might include political groups, religious and civic organizations, and so on.
5) Real people have an internal life, invisible to the naked eye.
This is a good category for a lot of things—emotional needs and phobias, ideals, and so on. These might include secret beliefs, hopes, desires. It also includes our own personal way of seeing the world, and includes how we cope with it. Sometimes our personal ideals are at odds with our public affiliations. For example, while most people profess some sort of religion, very often our personal beliefs might vary in some way from the official doctrine of the church that we espouse.
The internal life of a character is of course where we get the “meat” for our novels. A movie can easily capture the exterior of a character, but novels do a better job of capturing the internal feelings, moods, and beliefs. Yet that’s only part of the reason why novels are so popular and are often said to be better than the movies they inspire.
I’m convinced that we have an innate need to get to know one another from the inside out. You see, most people, if you look closely, seem to be rather odd and inexplicable. They act in strange ways and have crazy notions. (I, of course, am the exception!) So we learn quite early to distrust others, to fear them. As a child of four, I recall getting spanked in a grocery store by a cranky old lady. When I went to school, in the third grade I had a teacher who seemed bent on destroying the life of one little boy in our class. A couple of years later, I had a neighbor who tried to trap my little sister in his barn. I was able to stop him, and shortly afterward learned that he was the serial killer who had been haunting our town for years. In other words, people can be strange and scary.
Yet we have a biological impulse to “join the herd,” to find a mate, to interact with others, befriend them, serve them, and rely upon them. In order to do that, we have to learn to understand them, to figure out who is friend and who is foe, and the key to that is understanding why they act as they do.
So we spend a great deal of time analyzing the motives, beliefs, and actions of others. We compare ourselves to them, and sometimes we are changed by them—in ways that are rather dramatic.
Hence, the internal lives of our characters are the most fertile ground that an author may plant his story in.
6) As we explore the internal lives of our characters,
one of the most important areas to explore is that person’s internal conflicts. What happens when a person loves and fears the same thing? What happens when a man’s conscience won’t let him carry out his boss’s (or wife’s, or master’s) orders? Most people are filled with interesting contradictions, and usually that provides the best material for our novels.
7) Last of all, each character has a unique way of speaking.
Finding a character’s voice and accent is often a key for me when writing a book. The character never comes alive until I can hear him talking in my own imagination.
In conclusion, please note that people are not stick figures. Neither are they “round.” In a good novel, the author creates a number of characters who are put in opposition, and each of them is satisfying and believable. Your imaginary characters never really quite come alive, but at times it can feel like they’re taking over your story, bent on achieving their own ends.
The Super Writers’ Bundle
David Farland has helped dozens of authors hit the New York Times bestseller list, contributing to the careers of J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, and many more.
With this bundle, you’ll get access to the audited versions of Dave’s online workshops and receive copies of his writing books, all for a special price. These courses would normally cost more than $2,600, but for this week only, you can get them all for the low price.
You’ll get one-year access to all material in these workshops, meaning you can work through courses at whatever speed you like, and even complete assignments alongside friends and writing groups.
Who is David Farland?
David Farland is the New York Times bestselling author of over 50 novels and anthologies. He’s written science fiction under the name Dave Wolverton and fantasy under David Farland.
His work spans multiple genres. He’s won best-book-of-the-year awards in science fiction, historical fiction, and young adult thrillers.
He’s also the lead judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers Contest, where he judges thousands of stories every year, edits the annual anthology that results, and teaches writing courses.
Dave has taught creative writing at Brigham Young University and at conventions and symposiums from Sydney Australia, across the US, and in Europe. Nearly a hundred of his past students have gone on to become bestsellers, including eight who have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
This courseware is designed to teach you the things that he has taught other bestsellers.
The Courses—The workshops and seminars are all videotaped, and you will be able to access them online. Here is a breakdown of what you’ll get:
The Story Puzzle Workshop—Normally $199 as an audited class
Creating a story is like putting a puzzle together, one with missing or misleading pieces. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to recognize what pieces of your story you have (such as characters, scenes, or conflicts), determine what pieces are still missing, and fashion the pieces you need. Dave will show you how to create imaginative settings that can give birth to incredible societies and characters, plus how to take those characters’ cores and generate enthralling conflicts for your plot. This course is especially effective when combined with Dave’s Amazon #1 bestselling writing book, Million Dollar Outlines, also included in this bundle.
Writing Mastery 1 Workshop— Normally $199 as an audited class
What are the nine most common weaknesses that keep new authors from publishing successfully? This course will help you identify these problems and overcome them, strengthening your own writing through education and practice. Each topic is addressed in a taped lesson, followed by learning material, recommended reading, and a writing assignment. Learn to take your writing from “okay” to “powerful” and then “mesmerizing” in this first Writing Mastery course.
Writing Mastery 2 Workshop— Normally $199 as an audited class
In Writing Mastery 2, the focus will be on your story, which means that you will spend more time brainstorming scenes and working to build your story as a whole. Many of these exercises are designed to help you see your story in a new way, brainstorm new scenes, and then begin writing them, so that you build on the existing framework of your novel.
Promising Starts Workshop— Normally $399 as an audited class
Think you’re ready to begin your novel? The new author is faced with a lot of tasks, introducing his world, his characters, and building his story. For most people, starting well is a struggle. This workshop will help guide you through the process of writing that difficult opening.
Editing to Greatness Workshop— Normally $399 as an audited class
In this workshop you will learn why you need to become your own editor, and you’ll get an overview of the editorial process. You’ll learn why it’s important to make multiple passes while editing, and we’ll help introduce you to some of the best tools to guide you as you revise your novel.
Worldbuilding Seminar— Normally $29
In every genre, the works at the very top of the all-time bestseller list tend to be those where the author has spent time to develop a unique and compelling world. In this series of seven lectures, Dave will talk about some of the elements of worldbuilding that you should explore.
Heinlein’s Rules Seminar— Normally $29
More than 65 years ago, Robert Heinlein gave a few simple rules about how to approach your writing career. The advice is considered timeless, but a few things have changed since then, and maybe it’s time for some revision.
Kickstart Your Career Seminar— Normally $29
Dave has helped numerous authors hit the New York Times bestseller lists, so one of the most frequent questions he gets asked is “How can I break into writing quickly?” In this series of lectures, Dave talks about some of the steps you need to take in order to build a successful career as a writer. This goes especially well with his book Million Dollar Book Signings.
Writing for YA and MG Seminar— Normally $29
Dave has helped launch the careers of or train such notable writers as J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, and James Dashner. Many of these people write for younger audiences, in either the genres of middle grade and young adult, which have their own particular needs. In these lectures, Dave talks about some of the special considerations for these audiences and tells why they can be so hard to break into, but also so lucrative.
Recharge Your Creative Batteries Seminar— Normally $29
Every writer gets tired at times and feels that he has hit a creative block. In these lessons, Dave talks about how to combat that fatigue and get excited about your art once again.
Million Dollar Outlines Guide—
Many writers can tell you how to outline, or not, but in this #1 Amazon bestseller, Dave takes it several steps further by helping you decide not just how to outline a novel, but to create one that will become a bestseller.
Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing—
Every genre of writing has a “secret language” that builds up around it, a way of presenting itself to the world. In this book, Dave helps you see the importance of learning how to resonate well with other books and films in your genre, while resonating with real-life experiences, so that your novel will garner an audience as big as the genre that you write in.
Million Dollar Book Signings—
Dave has had terrible book signings and great ones. In fact, on July 3, 1999, he broke the Guinness Record for the World’s Largest single author, single book signing. You wouldn’t think that in today’s world that doing book signings would be important, but in this book Dave shows how laying the foundations of success for your book is vital, and reveals how some of his authors have become millionaires by focusing on one book signing at a time.
Why So Low on the Prices?
A couple of people have wondered if this is a scam. Why so low on the price? The answer is: I made this offer over the holidays and have had a number of people who have asked to get in on it, so we’re doing it one last time.
Quotes by Past Students
“His explanations led directly to me getting my first agent, and subsequently my first book deal.” –Brandon Sanderson, #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy author
“Aside from being a talented writer, David Farland is an excellent writing teacher. Those who would like to learn more about the craft of writing would be wise to pay attention.” –Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling children’s author
“Dave’s work spans many genres and is always good!” –Kevin J. Anderson, #1 New York Times bestselling science fiction author
“This is a seriously good deal. The classes I’ve taken from Dave have been some of the most useful, thought-provoking writing lessons I’ve had.” Kate Julicher, award-winning past student
“If there’s an aspiring writer in your life, this is a princely gift. If YOU are the aspiring writer, this is an investment in your own success.” Kary English, award-winning past student
“I paid the full $1,600 for these courses and books over the years, which were all well worth it!” – Jeff Kasunic, past student (and a very good one!)
How to Best Take Advantage of this Deal.
Dave is a firm believer that you learn by doing. So when you get these courses, make sure that you do the exercises. Just as importantly, get feedback from other writers. In fact, dozens of writers have told us that by working in groups of three or more, they really made tremendous advances in their craft
Don’t miss out! This offer expires soon. Get all $1,600 worth of courseware and books for only $89!