Methods of Characterisation

Here are a few methods of character creation that may be useful for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction alike:

  1. Observe people and try to figure out what makes them tick
  2. Write about aspects of yourself and incorporate them into your characters
  3. Research other people – either those you don’t know (by corresponding with them or reading about them) or those you do know (by talking to them or using your memory)
  4. Start with a setting (maybe a real life one or a photograph) and imagine who lives there, and how they use the objects in that place
  5. Use ‘what if …’ as a prompt for building a character
  6. Look for images from real life / magazines / television / photographs and use them to invent characters from scratch
  7. Take one characteristic from here, one from there and another from somewhere else and put them together to make a character
  8. Imagine that something unusual just happened to someone and then describe the way they look at that point as a basis for a character introduction
  9. Put a character in the middle of action and describe what they do next as an intro to them
  10. Think about how characters feel about various aspects of their body and then write about those feelings as you describe them
  11. Capture a character’s ‘consistent inconsistencies’ (Aristotle) in order to bring them to life, e.g. someone who shares with strangers but not with friends
  12. Write involved character sketches containing physical, psychological and historical aspects of them
  13. As yourself random question about the character and them answer them in order to deepen knowledge of the character
  14. Enter into the experience of a character, perhaps by doing as they do, in order to get to know them better
  15. Get an established character to talk to a new character so that we see them through their eyes
  16. Show the character in a social context so that we see how they interact with others and how others see them
  17. Show the decisive actions that you character undertakes – the ones that generate problems, discoveries and changes
  18. If you know the (possibly real life) character well enough, them tell the reader what they might be thinking at any particular point in the story
  19. Give the character a monologue so that their character can be interpreted from what they say and how they say it
  20. Imagine you character under pressure – taking risks, making choices and standing up to others and then see what happens next.

These methods were derived (and heavily paraphrased) from chapter five (Character Creation) in Linda Anderson’s 2006 book Writing Fiction.

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