May 13, 2014

Six Billion Ways to Develop Characters

Building From Scratch to Develop Characters

I was talking to an author last week about the writing process and she told me about a great character she had developed. I asked what role the character played in her book.

She said, “I’m not using him in this book. I’m saving him for the next one. Or maybe even the one after that.”

I looked at her and shook my head. “Why?”

She said, “He’s such a good character that I don’t want to waste him on this book.”

I laughed, and said, “There are six billion people in the world, and every one is unique. You will never run out of characters.”

Protest against anti-immigrant law

Protest against anti-immigrant law


She was afraid that if she used up that character she might not be able to create one as good. That’s worse than saying you’re afraid to use a word or a phrase to describe something. I have news for you, there are about 6,000 people in this world for every word in the English language. And that’s not counting the dead people.

At this point, you might be asking—what the hell do real people have to do with character development?

The answer is, they have everything to do with it.

Using real people is the best way to make your book shine. Using real people ensures that your book is filled with three-dimensional characters, complete with problems, conflicts, and their own unique personality.

 Using Real People to Develop Characters

Using real people is the best way to build a character. It’s best if you know the person well, but even if you don’t you can work magic. You don’t have to use the entire person, but the essence has to be there. If you make a character based on your cousin Mary, she can look like anything you want—as long as you use Mary’s personality. You can stuff that personality into any body—a blonde or brunette; fit and trim or overweight; sexy or plain; brown eyes or blue eyes; white skin or dark skin. None of that matters, with the exception of how it might affect personality.

The key is this—if you use Mary’s personality, make sure that when decisions are made, Mary is the one making them. Keep true to your characters.

Keeping Track Of Your Characters

The added benefit of using real characters is that it makes it easy for you to not only create the character, but to keep track of them. Now, in your character notes, all you have to do is write:

       >  “Doggs Caputo” (personality based on my brother Doggs, but with Uncle Ralph’s gambling).

If you do it this way, you don’t need to take many notes. No matter what happens, no matter what the situation, you know how your character will react, because you know the character he/she is based on.

You’ll know your character’s quirks and habits, and you’ll know how they’ll react to different situations. If “cousin Mary” twirls her hair when she’s nervous, your character will, and you won’t forget it. If she has to put on her glasses to read the fine print on a prescription, your character will too. And if a crisis strikes, you know how she’ll respond to that as well.

The best part of all of this is that when you are done, you’ll have characters that your readers can love, hate, envy, admire, or detest. No matter the emotion, the readers will love you for creating them.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

If you’re looking for more on character development, check out this post on invisible characters, or this one on secondary characters.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

Photo credit: Between Half-million and One Million People Protest against Anti-Immigrant Law

2 Responses to “Six Billion Ways to Develop Characters”

  1. At last estimate, the world’s population was nearly 7.2 billion. Just saying!

  2. Thanks, Andy. I need to get my ass in gear and update facts.

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