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Creative Writing 101: Tips for Getting to Know Your Characters

Writing a story is a complicated process all on its own; and creating the characters is just as challenging. A writer has to separate themselves from the characters and understand how their creation thinks and acts, in order to give the audience an immersive read. So how can we flesh out our characters? Well, here are five tips that will help you out!

Who are they?

Woah, okay. Answering who they are can become an ordeal, so let’s break it down:

Which member of their family are they? Are they the eldest, the middle child, or the youngest? Or perhaps they’re an only child or an orphan? (Little extra tip: if you are unfamiliar with any of these fraternal dynamics, ask people who know more!)

What type of friend are they? The outgoing one? The quiet one? The chaotic one? The mom friend? These traits usually translate into more than one facet of your character’s life. For example, if the character is more outgoing than the rest of the friend group, this could mean that they’re bolder or more reckless in other social situations. 

Who are or who were they in school? Do they skip classes? Are they the ones that study way too much? Do they take time to tutor underclassmen or peers? Did your character even go to school? If not, then why?

Ask yourself about the roles this character has in their life and what they contribute to each one. By doing so, you should have a better idea of how your character projects themselves into your story.

Ask them questions!

You can do a “getting to know you” dynamic, following some guided questions like the ones above. For instance, you could ask your character the following: 

Do you have siblings? If so, are you the eldest or the youngest? How do you treat your siblings?

If they don’t have siblings, ask them about their parental figure. 

Do you live on your own? How is your relationship with your parents (or parental figure)? Who is your parental figure?

Moreover, you can ask your character about their relationship with their friends. 

Who are your friends? How would you describe your relationship with them? 

And you can ask them about their relationship with anyone: 

How do you treat waiters? What do you think about authority figures? Do you admire anyone? If so, then who? 

Then you can ask your character about their relationship with themselves and what type of things they like. Ask them about  their favorite color and animal. What would their spirit animal be? Do they have pets or would they want one? If so, what kind? What kind of books would they read? What kind of games would they play? 

If they are social media enthusiasts, then what platform do they use? Instagram? Twitter? How do they use their Twitter? Do they have TikTok? Are they on WitchTok? BookTok? The Twilight Renaissance? This one might sound very silly, but it’s a way of getting to know your character’s habits.

Play with their feelings. I mean it.

This sounds mean and it absolutely is, but to flesh out a character, you have to imagine how they will emotionally respond to different situations. Are those responses natural or forced? Is your character a badass-hero type? Or are they more down-to-earth? 

Answering these questions will help create a character that readers can sympathize with or relate to, and it can give your character depth, with solid reasons why they act the way they do. 

Another helpful tip for this one is to evaluate yourself and how you’d genuinely react in the situations your character is going to face. Evaluating your own feelings might make you differ from your first impression of how your character was going to  react. “How can you make your character more relatable?” should always be an important question to ask.

After evaluating your own emotions, then you pass on to evaluate how external figures would react. Take the scenario of a tempest. For those who live in the Caribbean, we know how susceptible we are to natural disasters. Ask people about their experiences with tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on. It might surprise you the range of reactions you’ll get, from emotional breakdowns to a what-can-we-do-about-this-right-now attitude. The good thing about this example is that you can ask anyone, and you’ll have a different and unique response that could contribute to your character’s emotional development.

Take them out (surprise them!)

Brainstorm different scenarios for your character; the scenes you come up with don’t necessarily have to become part of your story, and they don’t need to be very extensive. What’s important is to determine your character’s reactions and practice writing them.

These scenes can range from going out to coffee to putting your character in danger. The key question here is: “How will they act?” If they are in a coffee shop, then, how do they treat servers? How do they place an order? How would they treat the people around them? How do they react in a problematic situation? Do they have a fight or flight reflex? How does their instinct carry them in these situations? Does your character have gut feelings or do they have to wait for a clear indicator that something is about to go down?

Your character’s actions and reactions reflect their thought process. This can mean one of two things: either you answer these questions as you would for yourself, or think up another reaction that’s completely opposite to your own. 

Be mean and nice to them (but mostly mean)

To really develop your character, you have to see them in every spectrum possible. You have to make them comfortable and uncomfortable. This means you can be nice to them, but you also have to be mean. A compelling story brings forth a character’s growth and transformation. To achieve this, the character has to be put in difficult situations, especially uncomfortable ones. The trick is that, in spite of all the turmoil, your character should remain relatable to your reader. 

After going through these processes, give your character a final evaluation. Are they what you thought they’d be? Did you stumble onto something better or worse? Did you get to know your character better? Did they surprise you?

Remember, your character doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be a flawed human to a certain extent in order to feel real. You can always change things that don’t fit or make sense about your character. The character creation process should be a fun and professional experience, so remember to be proud of your work, whether they’re your hero or your villain; they’re still your creation.

Born in Manatí, Puerto Rico. Raised in the rural landscape of Vega Alta by a musician and a self-proclaimed Spanish teacher. Studied music from second grade to freshman year in high school part-time and heavier education circulated around mathematics and science. Despite all this, writing is my passion and I plan to keep at it.
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