Creating Characters Readers Can Connect To

While doing some brainstorming for my current WIP, I’m Not OK, I realized that one of my biggest struggles is characterization. I have a tendency to focus more on action than on creating a deep character that a reader can feel some true emotions for. I’m Not OK relies on the reader to feel what the main character, Mariah, is feeling. If they don’t, the whole thing falls flat.

Of course I browsed several different “character planning” worksheets and websites and ideas, but the idea of filling out a worksheet felt like drudgery. Perhaps it’s because I’m a teacher and worksheets are hella taboo now.

So I started brainstorming on my own. How can I begin to give some depth to my main characters in a way I won’t half-ass?

Character Building Worksheet

Okay okay, I know I said I hate these things. And I DO. Because in my search online, I found worksheets that were PAGES long. I struggled answering some of these questions about myself, and realized there was no way on Earth I could answer them about even just one of my characters.

So what I did instead, was pick what felt like the most important to ME.

  1. Physical attributes (I tend to use stock photos of people who I feel resemble what I imagine my character to look like. This helps cover the basis of this section): hair color/length, skin color, how they dress most days, etc.
  2. Likes
  3. Dislikes
  4. Morning Routine (how a person starts their day really says a lot about their character)
  5. Fears
  6. Goals

These 6 things have (so far) given me enough insight into my main character to feel like I’m showing her story at a deeper level. For the theme of my story, these are the 6 things I felt were most important to understand about Mariah. Honestly, the morning routine was the most revealing for me.

Story From the Past/Diary Entry

I use these to warm myself up sometimes, but when I can’t write ANYTHING else on a day I’m really pushing myself to write something, these once again give SO MUCH insight into a character. The diary entry reveals personal feelings – which was especially helpful since my novel itself is so heavy in emotion – and backstory that could go years back to childhood, or days back to right before the beginning of the story. They could even be about things taking place in the story at the time.

In brainstorming right before I fell asleep last night, I realized I can probably use some of these later on in my story, so even better!

I may share some of these in the future. 🙂

Acrostic Poem

So I mentioned I’m a teacher, right? I teach middle schoolers, so acrostic poems are still very much a thing (though the smallest percentage on the poetry chart). I loved to challenge people to create acrostic poems that weren’t about themselves. To think on a deeper level.

So, it only made sense for me to challenge myself! To create an acrostic poem of sorts for my characters. I’ve only done my main character, Mariah, and her parents so far, but the alphabet restriction really forces me to consider new ideas and character traits I hadn’t before.

Here’s Mariah’s:

Mostly prefers to be alone
Anxious all the time
Really wants to succeed
Indecisive about big choices
Always overthinking things
Helpless when overwhelmed

It’s not a perfect acrostic, but the letter that helped me the most was R (really wants to succeed), because it helped me find the underlying motivation/cause for her emotional breakdowns. I mean, it’s a coming-of-age novel about life post-education. You’d think this was common sense, but alas, it didn’t strike me until the day I created this.

Whatever Works For You

The greatest thing about writing is that you can do whatever works best for you to succeed. Everyone’s path to success is different. For me, my novel notebook full of character pages, brain dump pages (where I ask a bunch of random questions and answer them later), random writings (sometimes unrelated to my WIP completely) is what’s helped me the most.

Most of my writings in this notebook happened while I was getting virtually no words written in the actual novel itself. But it kept me thinking about it, even when I felt like the words weren’t coming at all. They were, just in a different capacity.

Anything you do that helps to create more interesting characters? Feel free to share below. Happy writing!

4 thoughts on “Creating Characters Readers Can Connect To

  1. What about hobbies? Does she keep a diary or maybe a scrapbook? One of my mcs keeps a commonplace book/diary. Some of the quotes I think she would appreciate I keep in my writing file. Good writing. Great post by the way.

  2. Character development is my fave, lol, and it’s the action/plot/world building that I usually struggle with. For a while I was in a fandom that had a fairly active RP community on tumblr, where we all made blogs for our OCs. There’s a lot of just basic character building that goes into deciding what kind of things they would reblog, what kind of tumblr theme they would have, faceclaim (stock and/or celeb photos that you could consistently point to and be like, “there, that’s what they look like,” which it sounds like you’re doing), interacting with other OCS (writing scenes of them hanging out back and forth), and answering ask memes that posed random questions or scenarios to put them in and just see how they would react. With that last one, I always had a huge amount of fun coming up with two sets of responses — what they would actually say as their public, talking to people selves, and whatever they were holding back/trying to keep private.

    I love thinking about all this stuff. Good post!

  3. Reading a book called Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card on this very topic. The first chapter is titled “What is a Character?” and we really found this idea helpful. The first thing he says is “A Character is What He Does.” This got us thinking about our main character in Lawless Order: Jeremy Santos & The Outfit. Jeremy is a lawyer but also has humane qualities that show up through out the book, Thanks for this post!

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