How to Build [a] Character

                                                                                  Photo by Favim.
My pastor has this saying that he uses to illustrate how we build our character, and I couldn't help but think how it would also be useful in building literary characters. This is how it goes:
  1. Sew a thought, reap an action.
  2. Sew an action, reap a habit.
  3. Sew a habit, reap a character.
  4. Sew a character, reap a destiny.
Some characters come to us complete - living, breathing beings. Others come to us partially complete - with a few details that need addressing. And still others, we need to build from the ground up. For the sake of example, we will work with one that needs complete building. There are a few questions you will need to answer to start:
  1. What does he/she looks like? Does he/she have distinguishing features?
  2. Name at least three flaws and strengths of this person?
  3. Any unusual habits? phrases? opinions? that make him/her different from the norm?
  4. What is unique about he/she's background/family?
  5. Is he/she optimistic/pessimistic by nature?
  6. What is he/she's view of life? (faithful, undecided, or otherwise)
  7. How will the totality of their character mold their destiny?
My character Rowena, for example, has flaming red hair that is long and hangs in tendrils. She is insecure, quiet, and painfully shy, but she is deep, has and old soul, and intriguing to many. She wears rosemary in her hair (for the smell), wears a rosary as a bracelet, and believes in the metaphysical world. She grew up without a mother, with a blacksmith as a father. She's unsure and slightly pessimistic by nature, but turns to her faith in times of distress. Her character traits lure someone to her that will change her life and his forever.

In order to have realistic characters, they must have strengths, flaws, opinions on life, habits, differences, and some type of background. (I'm sure there are things I've missed, but you get the picture.) Next time your creating a character, I hope that you will find the phrase useful in building a rounded character. For more information about building characters, see my other posts How to Create the Greatest Character You've Always Known and Character Development: Let's Play 20 Questions.

Write on! :)


Anthony Dutson said...

Great post for getting ready for NaNoWriMo! I'm just in the middle of simmering some characters of my own and I love your 3 flaws and strengths suggestion. Great tip!

Lena Winfrey Seder said...

Thanks for sharing! Some interesting advice!

Vanessa Eccles said...

@ Anthony - Thanks for the comment. Good luck in NaNoWriMo! Write on, friend! :)

@ Lena - I'm all about coming up with new ways to improve my art. Thanks for the comment. :)