Monday, October 4, 2010


When you have a story to tell, there's always a problem to solve. And the character has to solve it himself. Let's say you know what the problem is, but you as a writer do not know the solution. So, turn to your character.

Characters Aren't Complicated | writing characters | tips | advice | novels | books

Think of these questions:
  • How does your character react to certain situations?
  • What is your character's deepest darkest secret?
Put your character in a situation that will bring out his or her biggest fear. Write about the character's reaction. This will tell you a little more about your character.

Think about how people solve problems in real life. Depending on the situation, you may do one of the following. Which would be most believable for your character?
  • he will try figure out the problem all by himself
  • he will go to others to ask for help
  • he will hide from the problem until he is no longer able to do so
  • he will fight the problem head-on, perhaps without even thinking about it
Your character will likely be drawn to behave in one way over the others. When you look at it this way, you may begin to see the solution to the problem and how it needs to be worked out. In my toothfairy book, I knew right away that she would ask others for help.

In Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, she shares her secret formula for doing a character sketch for picture books. She says five things are necessary for us to know.
  1. Your character's name. Don't be too cutesy, too alliterative (esp. w/animals), too similar, too hard to pronounce, or too confusing.
  2. Time of the story (era), and age of child. Make sure words used in a story set in 1800's aren't words distinctive of today. Think about the characteristics of the age of your character. Are they developmentally accurate?
  3. Appearance. Make a note to yourself about what your character looks like. It will affect how you write about her. I imagine Paprika Picante being a red-headed Hispanic with lots of freckles and wild and crazy hair. But that's totally up to the illustrator. Still, it will help the story be stronger.
  4. Relationships with others. Names and qualities of family, friends, and others. What are they like? How much can you write down about each of them. The majority of this won't find it's way into the book, but it will help you to write the book.
  5. Personality. Finally, the most important one. Explore your character's strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, fears, obsessions, talents, and hobbies. Think about voice, style, and idiosyncrasies.
  6. Bonus 1: "What has brought the character to this point in the start of the story?" Describe what happens BEFORE the story actually begins.
  7. Bonus 2: "What does the main character want?" And what must he overcome?
So there you have it, characters aren't that complicated at all, now are they? Now go create a compelling character!


  1. Good and useful post, Christie. Thanks! I love Ann Whitford Paul's book! I have found it very helpful.

  2. that is actually a really great checklist! Consider it bookmarked! :)

  3. Hi, Christie!

    I read Ann Whitford Paul's book and loved it! I was just taking notes for myself last night to make sort of a checklist.

    But this is what confuses me about current picture book guidelines. It seems that all mc's are supposed to solve their problems all by themselves. Or maybe I just assumed that? Now that I look over the checklist again I see that I may have been wallowing in some false assumptions.

    Thanks for the reminder to do a character sketch, and to keep the chosen method of problem-solving in line with character attributes.


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