Friday, January 13, 2012

Inspired Fridays? Character Name and Personality

Boogey Music by Donelle Lacy
This is a bit of an odd post, since Fridays are usually reserved for Good Fridays posts and Tuesdays are 'Inspired', but I've decided to mix things up. I also have a secret weapon to share with you further in this post that should help you completely flesh out your characters.

To start, let's talk Character Names. Sometimes characters name themselves. I love when that happens. Other times you need a little help from a name generator or a baby name book. I usually name my characters through brainstorming, and combining names I already know with odd letters and sounds.

Here are two sites that can help you name your characters:  
Behindthename gives you real names from various cultures,
and Seventhsanctum is a name generator for world-building. You can name characters, realms, abilities and many other things. (some of these are pretty silly, but hopefully they'll spark your imagination to take over and lead you to something great.)

Now I'd like to move on to Character Personalities. This is a trickier topic. In a character development class at SCAD, the professor gave us a list of questions (in the form of a large Word document) we had to answer about our main character - and really our secondary characters too. This list included the character's appearance, motivation, favorite food, political stance, hopes, and fears - lots of things I don't always think about when I first sit down to design a new character.

I've decided to share this list with you. I uploaded it to Google docs, so if you have any trouble downloading it, let me know. Also, don't let the list intimidate you. Much of what's on it can be developed as you write your character, but for those of you who prefer to completely outline a character before you write, here you are. I guarantee that if you manage to fill this list out - or even fill some of it out - you'll be on your way to really knowing your character.

A little tip about creating a character's personality: Start with a personality you already know - a character from a movie, book, video game, anime, a person you know in real life, and build on it. Edit it and expand on it. Use yourself - your own fears, hopes and dreams, your anxieties, and divide those among your characters.

I like to start with a 'type'. It might seem flat, but it's a foundation. I ask myself "Do I want my MC to be timid or bold? Prideful, sensitive, wild or reserved?" Once I have her type, I launch into polishing it up, rounding her out and giving her layers. My favorite characters are those who surprise me, who are flawed and quirky and sometimes let their desires or fears get the better of them.

Every character is driven by a force. You simply have to figure out what that force is. Is it fear, love, hate, revenge, justice? Is she seeking something?

Margo Kelly is doing a brilliant blog series about character development and she offered these three questions for us to answer:

1. What lie does your character believe?
2. What will your character avoid at any cost?
3. What does your character know that no one else does?

I love how compelling these questions are. I hope this information helps with your character development, and wish you wonderful writing!


  1. Great character development article. I love google docs and really saw its power when I worked with Rachael Harrie on her last campaign building platform blogfest.

  2. My characters sometimes name themselves, but they usually end up choosing names I dislike. "Calvin," "Roger," and "Tabitha" for example. (Luckily, they've been lounging around my head long enough for me to forget that I dislike their names.)

  3. Great ideas all around. I've done lists of questions similar to those in the Google Doc, but hell, I'll probably do these too. I'm kinda obsessed with my characters, lol.

  4. Michael, thanks! I'm new to google docs but if it's always this easy, I might use it more.

    Yael, I love it when characters name themselves. It's true sometimes we need to get used to the names they pick, though.

    Chickpea, you and me both! Enjoy the list!


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