Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Creation of Characters

By: Linda Leigh Hargrove

I can't remember a time that I didn't make up characters. As a small child, I drew my characters in my margins of the family dictionary. When I got older, I graduated to drawing them on blank sheets of paper my father brought home from his job at the paper plant. I studied people, committing facial details and mannerisms to memory. Then later, in the seclusion of my room, I would draw all my impressions into one face. I was like a little squirrel, stealing bits and pieces from all over the place and storing them away in my makeshift sketchbook. Crafting stories to go along with my juvenile drawings was a natural progression.

When I create characters for my current novels, I still start with a picture. These days, I rarely draw the characters. Most of the time the picture is a clipping from a magazine or a printout from a website. It's quicker that way. There's just so much more that goes into a full-fledged character outline. Recording all their aspirations, goals, motivations, likes, and dislikes. Before long, my characters and I are talking scenes out  (and arguing about plot points). For me, creating characters is half the crazy fun of writing. Although my stories are plot driven, it is the interdependence of the characters that makes the story come alive for me.

I sometimes base characters on real people. But never on just a single person. My characters are more like a tossed salad of a bunch of people that I've known or read about. That's another fun part of creating characters—remixing reality to create the characters I need in order to move the story along. It's very godlike and addictive.

A book that brought more depth to character creation for me was Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. It introduced me to the notion of archetypes, the familiar character types in mythical stories. By studying those character types, I realized that there were patterns to follow and avoid. The Writer's Journey opened my eyes to the possibilities for drawing the reader deeper into the story with characters.

I am an introvert. As such, I enjoy scripting everything out. Life isn't scripted. It's real. There are no do-overs. Once you've said or done a stupid thing, it's said or done. But in writing, I can go back later and edit it, until it sounds very insightful and valuable. Or nerdy and anal, but only if I intended it to be. Characters help me explore and expose the humanness (and sometimes the godlikeness) of the world. Truth be told, I sometimes envy my characters. They are much more memorable than I've ever been.

Linda Leigh Hargrove blends suspense, humor, and faith into compelling stories about race and class in America. Her writings include two novels: The Making of Isaac Hunt (June 2007) and Loving Cee Cee Johnson (September 2008). The former environmental engineer currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and three sons where she designs Web sites when she’s not writing. She blogs at and


  1. I am developing some characters now, so this is interesting and helpful, thanks! You know, I like to script real life too, so I am learning a lot about being flexible and other good things like that.

  2. You're welcome, Karen. Glad you found it helpful. Happy writing! (and rewriting)


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