Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Create Characters for Your Character-Driven Novel

Tweet It!
Bookmark and Share
by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

We all know a well constructed plot is the critical aspect of a novel, but the strength of those characters we infuse into our plot can turn a plot-driven novel into something much more powerful; a character-driven novel.

Today I'd like to offer some tips on how to create those people who populate your character-driven novel.

The first secret to strong characters for your character-driven novel is to become familiar with yourself. Yes, you are the secret to your character-driven novel. I know this sounds ludicrous, but most of us do not truly know who we are. We all tend to not face our fears, ignore our weaknesses, think our idiosyncrasies are somehow cute and so on. However, if you wish to write the character driven-novel, learn and accept yourself, blemishes and all.

The first step to create a character-driven novel is to create characters who are important to you. Make them someone about whom you care. You'll write a better character if they make you laugh, cry and all the rest.

Further, try not to place too many constraints upon your characters. In effect, don't outline them in full or force them into too tight a plot. Allow them to toss a surprise or two, or even three, your way as you write your novel. By this I mean, give them permission to take emotional and creative risks. To paraphrase something I read a long time ago, write as if your parents will never read your work. Wow! All of a sudden doors open wide with that thought, don't they?

Next, like all characters, be sure you create these from the inside out and not the outside in. That is, let their emotions rise to the surface. It's fine if they have curly hair and porcelain skin, but it's finer still if they have a dark spot deep in their heart or an unbounded joie de vivre.

The secret to characters who can drive your novel? As alluded to in the first tip above, look to yourself.

Then make a list.

On this list, you'll want to write down five or six of your higher qualities and five or six of those qualities within you of a more base nature. After that, find five or six things you love and an equal number of things you hate. Do the same with your personal goals, your dreams and fears. Finally, include in your list those things in life that have held you back and those that have propelled you forward.

Now, take what you wrote down and distribute those qualities among your characters. Give each character a fear and each a love from your list. Give others your goals or dreams and still others your hates and inner demons. It's best you distribute these various qualities among your characters, though you're free to allocate them as you see fit. Regardless, once you've infused your personal characteristics into your novel's characters, you'll have characters real enough to drive your novel toward the best-seller list.

Now, who among you have additional tips on how to create characters strong enough to drive a novel?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. I love that you encourage writers to look inward when crafting characters. It's true that what we can learn about traits, or lack thereof, can be found within one's self upon reflection. This makes characters more believable because the stereotypical good guy/bad guy characters are too predictable. If we want to keep readers guessing, we've got to make characters multi-dimensional. This reminds me of SALT, a movie that just came out. It's definitely a movie that keeps you guessing about the main character, which is extremely effective in holding your audience's attention. As always, awesome Patrick! We'll pop you into our round-up tomorrow if that's okay?


  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJuly 29, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Of course, Marissa. Many thanks.

    I'll have to get my hands on "Salt" and see what I think.

    BTW... I've got your site linked in my newsletter that'll come out on Monday.