Original Character Personalities
Types of personality flaws
- Sarcastic or cynical. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a sucker for guys who are constantly insulting everyone in a very funny way. Try to decidewhy the character is sarcastic, though… What makes him moody or bitter in his humour? What happened in his past to make him insult everyone now? Is he afraid of relationships or wary of trust?
- Egocentric. Let the character think she’s better than everyone. If other people can do something, she can do it better. She’s also much more intelligent than everyone, and, of course, the most beautiful. She’s fun to write and fun to read, because you love to hate her.
- Easily fascinated. I just love a character who will stare at balloons forever and delights at a passing butterfly. They’re flaky, they’re shallow, they’re generally useless, but they’re so funny to watch. They spout off the randomest pieces of knowledge and don’t know when to shut up.
- Fierce or hot-tempered. This one is becoming a bit overdone, but I still enjoy a girl who’s more likely to knock you out than allow you to rescue her. If you go for the gender-role-reversal thing, a fierce girl is a lot more fun to write than the usual damsel-in-distress. Hot-tempered guys can be great, too - he may be easily provoked or loses his temper at the mention of his father. But don’t overdo it. How many people got really annoyed by Harry’s constant angst in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?
- Mysterious. You have to be careful with this one, but sometimes it’s interesting to have a character who you can’t predict and who’s thoughts and actions you don’t understand. It can get annoying, though, if the character knows more than the reader. So be careful.
- Hyperactive or flamboyant. A character that never seems to run out of energy or questions can be amusing. Maybe he has an obsession with trying to get the other characters to dance with him. This is a fun one if you like gender-role-reversals. Guys who are easily excitable and like to give big sloppy kisses don’t come along too often, and we love to laugh at their antics.
- Melodramatic. The drama queen (or king). This is a character who exaggerates everything and makes tiny events seem like huge catastrophes. She’s fun to write and even more fun to read. This is the character who jumps to conclusions and thinks everything is way funnier than it is.
- The bully. Personally, I like the guy that pushes everyone around. He thinks he’s cool, but maybe he’s secretly really insecure. A good example would be Sirius Black and James Potter from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
- The nerd. Okay, so it’s fun to have a girl who rattles off physics equations in the middle of battle and tries to predict events based on scientific calculations… espcecially if she’s wrong or no-one ever listens to her. Another variation of the nerd is the kid who’s rather the swot and always likes to be right.
- Accident prone. She screws things up because she trips over her own feet. She’s clumsy. She gets in the way, and she can’t be stealthy no matter how hard she tries. She drops things.
- Forgetful or absent-minded. He’s sort of dim, gets teased a lot, puts his shoes on the wrong feet. Perhaps he’s brilliant but can’t remember more than two things at once. He can’t remember why he’s in the kitchen or where he put his glasses.
- Compulsively lies. She rarely tells the truth. Lies are so much more interesting - and it’s not really lying, it’s just a form of acting. She may give her companions wrong directions and after awhile they may not trust her very much. Useful if you like the boy-who-cried-wolf type of story, where she doesn’t tell the truth until it really matters, and then no-one believes her.
- Awkward. He’s nervous and a little paranoid and doesn’t know what to do with himself when a girl is in the vicinity. He may trip over his own tongue or be fearful of revealing anything about himself.
- A hypochondriac. She’s convinced she’s dying. A splinter becomes life-threatening, and she cannot travel if she has bruised her knee. Occasionally she crashes into hard surfaces ‘on accident’ and sustains grievous injuries. She always thinks she’s ill or coming down with something contagious.
- A kleptomaniac. He compulsively steals things. His companions don’t understand why their shoestrings and coins seem to disappear. Most of the time, he doesn’t, either.
- A pyromaniac. It doesn’t get much better than a fire-obsessed girl who likes to experiment. Whoever knew that the hero’s boots burn such a strange shade of blue? Or that unicorn hair won’t burn unless you douse it in beer?
The Basics of Characters
- The first thing about characters - They are just one facet of a good story. They are essential, but if you don’t have a world for them to traipse around in and a twisty plot so that they can actually do something, then they’re gonna get bored, and - worse - your reader will, too.
- Listen to them! If you manage to create a good character, she’ll practically come to life. She will have her own opinions and demands, and if she doesn’t want to fall in love with the hero, don’t force her into it. She’ll be unhappy, you’ll be unhappy, and your story will seem contrived. She might even hit you over the head with a strong dose of Writer’s Block for it. Your characters know who they are. Try to keep an open mind to their suggestions. Humour them.
- Exaggerate them. If he’s egocentric, make him really egocentric. Real-life people are a mix of a lot of things, and their quirks don’t usually go to the far end of extreme. In a story, though, your character will feel more real if he’s actually less real. Like real-life, he should be a complex mix of more than one thing, but try to have one or two of those things super-sized. As a reader, we like to be able to label a character, and if they have one or two defining characteristics, it makes it easier for us - we just say ‘she’s arrogant’ or ‘he’s lazy.’
- When I talk about characteristics and unique traits, I don’t mean that she has a really weird birthmark or he has silver eyes. Other tutorial writers have said it, and I’ll say it again: if you’re trying to breathe originality into your character, strange physical attributes are a cop-out. No purple-haired humans or glowing birthmarks unless you can come up with a really, really good reason for them. If you’re giving him blue hair just because it looks cool, you need to rethink your character. Instead, give him a crooked smile, lots of freckles, or really big ears.
- Don’t let your characters be perfect. Ever. The hero can’t always be brave and selfless, especially if you combine it with roguish good looks and a talent for swordplay. Characters need flaws. I cannot stress that enough. They need to be imperfect. They need to have quirks and fears and obsessions. They need a weakness.
- Let your character be special for who she is and what she does, not who she’s related to or because she’s destined to save the world. Her defining points should not be based on a condition - she’s pregnant, she’s under a curse that allows her to only speak in rhymes, she’s deaf. She should be interesting for her personality and her quirks. If she’s heading out on a quest to save the world, she should be doing it because she has the internal motivation to do it. If some blind old Seer makes a prophecy that says she’s the only one who can bring together the warring races, she’ll probably say, ‘To hell with that, I’m gonna stay home and hope the whole thing blows over.’
- A note on fantasy races: If your unicorns are silvery steeds who can cure injuries with a touch of their horns and your dragons are temperamental and have a fondness for hording treasure and breathing fire, we’ve read it before. Why not make your unicorn have attitude issues because she hates being stereotyped as the gentle creature from children’s storybooks? Why not have an elf who abhors trees and tends to trip over himself a lot? Let your dragon be sweet-tempered or afraid of heights. Allow your dwarves to have squeaky voices and a love of chocolate. Your werewolf might be a charming family guy when he’s not covered in fur, and your vampire might like to wear bright colours and shape-shift into a bumblebee instead of a bat. Shake things up! Refuse to submit to the old, the overused, and the cliché.
Character Creation: Little Exercises
- Open up a phonebook and pick out a name, and write a description of that person based only on their name. Similarly, open up your highschool yearbook (or, better yet, someone else’s), choose a face you don’t know anything about, and create a personality for them. (This works well for non-fantasy writing, too).
- Write down occupations (you know, like Firefighter and Musician and Doctor) on scraps of paper, and on another set of paper write down personality quirks (such as Kleptomaniac, No Sense of Humour, or Superstitious). Pair the occupation with the quirk by drawing them out of a hat, and see what sort of person you come up with!
- Write up a profile for your character. There’s a wonderful Character Creation Form in one of the other tutorials, or you can find other ready-to-use profile forms on the internet. If you like, write your own. Make sure to include the date you started the form. I like to print them out and fill in all the data at my leisure, and I keep separate folders with forms and notes for each story.
- Interview your character. Sit down with him and ask him questions. Keep asking until he starts giving you answers. Find out why he’s afraid of spiders and what his deepest desire is. It’s fun to write up a questionnaire and fill it in. If you can, explain your character to a friend and then ask her to answer the questions as she thinks your character would.
- Draw her. Even if you are a terrible artist, drawing your character might inspire you to keep writing her. This is particularly helpful if you feel like you’re coming down with a case of Writer’s Block. Sometimes drawing your character or a favourite scene can kick your brain back into gear, and suddenly you’ll be hammering away at the keyboard again.
- Take an online personality test (such as Meyers-Briggs or Enneagram) from the perspective of your character. I have a friend who loves Enneagram and always defines her characters with numbers based on the Enneagram system. Months later she can return to a character and know just who he is by the numbers she’s written down.