Acquire a Personality

Hello my darlings,

Do you ever come across moments where you look at your cast of characters and all you see is this?

I’m different, yo.

Don’t lie, because you know you do. Unless you have a cast of five characters or under, chances are you are going to run into that “same-ness” that haunts every single author at some point during their careers.

I don’t think I can put a number on how many characters have come and go since I started writing. There are numerous faces that have come and gone during The Age of Waking Death series to the point where I have to keep a glossary at hand just to see who I have and have not introduced. I like to think that this is not my burden alone. I imagine that George R.R. Martin, R.A. Salvatore, and Laurell K. Hamilton (god, Hamilton) all have the same issue of “too many fucking characters”. But the number isn’t always the problem.

I am fairly certain that Dragoloth’s Verian race is one of the most homogeneous races in the history of fantasy (besides, you know, the obvious. Like dark elves). You could sit down with a basic formula and generate as many family members as you wanted with varying degrees of attractiveness. Think on it … pale skin, curly black hair, purple eyes, strong bone structure. That is almost everyone in the Mahtrador family. 

How could Encarz ever doubt his legitimacy?

How could Encarz ever doubt his legitimacy?

But that is what happens when the family tree doesn’t have too many far-reaching branches. But when multiple characters have the same basic appearance, how do you set them apart as individuals?

It was difficult for me, at first. When I began writing I had a handful of character archetypes who all acted more or less the same (it doesn’t help that there are very few personalities I actually enjoy). It took years of re-writing the same storyline and re-populating the same country for me to discover the secret for making my characters sound like they were all playing different notes.

Kind of a bizarre analogy, I will admit.

Here are some tricks that help me develop a character.

  • I name them first. Names have power, and if I stick a name on a character their face / personality will immediately jump to mind. My favorite name site is Behind the Name for when I don’t feel like just making shit up. (It saves you from having to read names like Arvyhaueaar).
  • I assign them all tics. Shrukian massages his temples whenever he has a massive stress headache coming on. Encarz puts his fingertips together. Cyrano pinches the bridge of his nose. These small gestures are key to figuring out how your character handles and processes different situations.
  • I assign everyone a ‘signature’ color. A person’s favorite color speaks volumes about their personality. You could pick a color, decide what it means to you, and then assign it to a character. Or, you could use a color meaning chart. Worse comes to worst, you could just let your character pick their favorite.
  • Assign them three animals. This is more like an exercise. Look at your character and name the first three animals that come to mind. The first will be how other people see them, the second will be how they see themselves, and the third will be how they really are. Once you come up with your animals, think about what you think they are like. (It’s not as if the reader is going to see your notes and challenge you. “NO! I do NOT think Shrukian has any manatee in him!”).

Those are just a few things that usually get me started. Once I have those basics down, the character is not so shy anymore and is usually willing to open up. There should be a whole other blog post dedicated to shutting them up…

Your most adored,



3 thoughts on “Acquire a Personality

  1. I ran into this issue when my heroes were developing the traits of the strongest personality of the group. In my case it was Luke’s recklessness and I tied it into the plot. So they touch on their bad habits and agree to walk more as a team of individuals than similar beings.

  2. Honestly, I don’t have that problem. Granted, I tend to have fairly few characters. I tend not to add someone into a story unless that particular role absolutely cannot be filled by someone to whom I’ve already introduced the reader.

    Once I have decided that a new character has to be introduced, I try to ask myself what that character is doing there–not from a narrative sense, but from the point of view of the character. If I know what someone was doing before she or he entered the scene and what she or he will do after the scene, and why, and what impact this scene will have on a character’s life, I usually find it easy to fill in the background details.

    For example, if I want my hero to get caught breaking into a building, to advance the plot, I’ll figure out why that particular security guard was all the way on the back of the building in the middle of the night. Maybe there is a payphone back there, and the guard wants to be able to talk to her lover without the call showing up on her cell phone where her jealous husband could find it. Just knowing that much about a walk-on character makes the resultant scene one that will be more memorable for the reader.

    In my mind, the secret to writing characters is to understand that there are no minor characters–everyone is the hero of their own story.

  3. I love the idea that characters can be associated with notes. With the animal traits, I immediately associated my constructed angel Michael with a leopard and his love interest Sara with a household cat. Odd, since I’m a dog person… Colours are already in place (white and green respectively, with a dark grey for the antagonist) but I will extend that to the minor characters too. Great ideas – thanks for sharing!

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