Defining Your Characters


Do not introduce too many characters all at once and bear in mind that readers typically can only relate to four people.

Make sure that they are all needed (if not merge them into one)

A good place to start re physical appearance is to think about who would play them in the movie.

Draw up a character profile at the start. But let the reader conjure them up for themselves.

Try not to make them all sound the same. Give them different styles of talking

Give them distinctive names

Give them a different voice, outlook and perspective. This is so the reader is clear about who is speaking or who the Point of view character is.

Only reveal 30% of what you know about your character

All characters should have things that they do habitually and ways in which they will react in particular situations. It is up to you are the writer to understand these different facets of your characters and to make sure that they don’t act out of character, particularly when they are stressed and out of their comfort zone. Keep them real and honest.

Show a character’s back story as part of the action in a suspenseful way. For example an action leading to a revelation from their past should be triggered from the outside in, not the inside out. Show the action and then go into feelings. Not ‘he was sad because,’ but ‘he remembered that last day that they spent together, how she had laughed at him and run away. How he had chased after her. He hung his head and tears dripped from the end of his nose.’

Do not change the point of view character mid flow. It throws the reader out of the piece and makes them aware of the author.

It is a good idea to sketch out your characters and understand them as follows:

  • What are they each like? How do you know this?
  • External appearance – clothes; insisting on wearing a hat; body language – walk; chew pens; prefers to be bare-foot; plays with hair.
  • Individual traits – vegan; lemon in their tea; scared of cats/clowns/teeth brushing/nail clippers; a dog person.
  • How do the characters speak (dialogue)? Accent, catch-phrase (“Like”), do they talk loudly or whisper?
  • Background – did something happen to them in the past which causes them to behave in a certain way? Genetic or cultural differences?
  • State of mind – nervous, agitated.
  • Ideally some trait should surprise the reader
  • Their true nature is revealed when they have to make a decision or react to an incident e.g. where the plot and character work together. True character is revealed by their actions and innermost thoughts. Are they a fraud, enuine, selfish, kind, strong, weak?
  • What motivates them? What do they want?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What do the characters do for a living?
  • How are they described or seen by other characters?
  • Character sketches allow you to be consistent and not trip up with
  • Appropriate to the story/genre
  • Physical appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Motivations and behaviour
  • Wants
  • Needs
  • Flaws
  • What is wrong with them
  • Their deepest hidden secret
  • Character
  • How they would react in a particular situation
  • Their moral compass
  • How they treat people/animals/objects
  • Their relationships with people/animals/object/food
Minor Characters

You don’t need to describe minor characters with too much detail.

Typically if the character is named then they must be important.

You need to show the impact of the minor character on the main character i.e. are they glad to get away from them or sad to go.

The minor characters must have her clear role in the story i.e. to drive the plot or character on.

If they are necessary, give them a past and potential but don’t labour it.

Make them real through an action. This can be large or small, internal or external, it can be through acting, speaking, thinking, or interacting.