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10 top tips for creative characterisation

1. It should be your aim to create individuals who leap off the page, exuding energy and creating dramatic impact. They must be more exciting and more attention grabbing than the ordinary people we meet in our normal workaday existence. 

2. But they must still be believable! Even if you create characters as exotic as Mary Poppins, Count Dracula or Hannibal Lector, you must draw them so vividly and give them so much presence and personality that they come alive. By doing this your readers will be prepared to suspend their disbelief and be ready to believe that in the fictional world you have created these people could easily exist. 

3. In order to do this give every character an individual personality, quirks, mannerisms and a clearly understood motivation. Make them three-dimensional and equip them with a full range of emotions and responses. 

4. Make sure you know your characters intimately – why not create a ‘character profile’ for each of your major characters listing their background, appearance, hobbies, habits, strengths, weaknesses and much, much more? 

5. But don’t give this information to your readers in a big ‘dollop’. It will slow down your narrative. Instead, feed in descriptions in small drips and let your characters show the reader what you are like, rather than you, the author, telling them. Alternatively, show how your protagonist looks through the eyes of one of the other characters. 

6. Make sure you choose good names. You can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background by the name you give them. It’s important that you select a name that accurately reflects the personality and background of the person you are creating. As a rule, aim for short, sharp, powerful names for strong characters and longer, more fussy names for weaker characters. And remember, names can tie your characters to a particular age group. If a female is called Doris or Edith she will probably be elderly; if she’s called Chelsea or Brittany she will probably be in her late teens. 

7. Always ensure that your characters are as different from one another as possible so that readers won’t get them mixed up. Give each a distinctive way of looking, talking and acting. Give each a unique personality and background. 

8. Never try to introduce too many characters at the same time – this will only end up confusing your readers. Give each character time to become established in the story before introducing the next. 

9. It’s a useful plotting device if the hero and his main enemy have a close connection – former friends, ex-lovers or members of the same family. It makes the antagonism between them all the more sad. But if you are casting the ‘baddie’ as someone the hero may once have loved or admired, then he or she has to have some good points too. After all, most people have some redeeming features, so don’t always make the antagonist a monster or a villain. It’s not necessary. 

10. Avoid stereotypes at all costs! The bumbling vicar, the brain-dead blonde bimbo, the beer-swilling rugby player – they’re great for a quick, cheap laugh but they aren’t realistic or believable. I make no apology for repeating earlier advice: inhabit your stories with memorable people – fully-rounded, surprising and intriguing individuals.


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