Monday, January 7, 2013

Character Development Series: Question #3 and an Exercise - Aligning Impressions

We're back into the swing of things for 2013! I hope you had a good break over the Christmas / New Year period. If there's anything you're eager to find helpful blogposts for this year, let me know in the comments, or email me!

Late last year we started this series with discussions on human nature, the impression your characters have of themselves, and how that may differ from the impressions they give others.

Now it's time to use that information to make sure your character is properly fulfilling their role in your book.

Question #3: How does your character's primary trait work in favor of -- or against -- their role in your story?

You're approaching this question from the point of view of the reader. What impression do they gain from the character's first appearance? How does that personality trait work for / against their role in the story? What will the reader need from them to properly identify their role? And what will you, the writer, need to guard the reader against?

EXERCISE #2: Create a table with five columns.

In the first, list the main character's names (this will usually involve at least four, sometimes up to eight or even twelve characters - but make it easy for yourself to start with).

In the second, identify their roles (hero, heroine, villain, side-kick or supporting role, villain's henchmen / side kick, mentor, etc).

In the third list the primary impression you'll show the reader at that character's first appearance.

In the fourth, list how that impression can be used to develop each character's role (for the reader).

In the fifth, list how that impresson might work against the character's ultimate goal in the story (from the reader's perspective).


Socially insecure and often awkward or tries too hard socially.
The reader can relate to Stacy’s feelings of insecurity, and has probably shared at least some of her social experiences.
She’s hard to look up to. Readers probably won’t want to be like Stacy, at least initially. So her experience must have some emotional resonance for the reader.
Socially strong and confident. Generally kind.
Mark is a natural leader and physically strong. The reader will probably share Stacy’s attraction to him.
Mark’s softer nature and willingness to overlook flaws can come across as weak or blind. The reader will need to see plausible motivation from him in order to stay in love with him.
Clever, but may use those smarts to hurt others.
He’s the guy we all knew at school – attractive and sharp witted. It will be easy for the reader to identify what kind of person he is and thus naturally be wary of him.
There’s a risk that Finn will look like a “cookie-cutter” villain. The reader will need to see emotional layers in him, a depth, so that he feels like a real person.

Your Turn: Hopefully that's self-explanatory. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, or tell us about the tricky hindrances you have to look out for with your characters!


  1. I'll try this exercise after school!

  2. Oooh, I like this. Can't wait to try it.

  3. Love this! It's so simple but so vital and often overlooked. I'm definitely going to do this exercise :)