The Making of a Character

As writers, we’re always watching (or at least, we should be). When we watch, we can’t help but notice strange things, people, places, objects, etc. Maybe they’re not strange, but they fascinate us in some way.

I’m almost ADHD when it comes to watching. If I’m making small talk with someone in a crowded place, I get antsy really fast, mostly because I’m trying to look around and watch while the person’s trying to talk to me. I don’t like to just stand in one spot very long. I like to walk around and notice things.

People fascinate me most. Sometimes I’ll be in a restaurant or the library, or basically any random public place and I’ll think up little stories about the people I see. I might see a person who looks like one of my characters and I have to resist the urge to stare at them. Crazy, I know.

I don’t usually base my characters off total strangers, though. Most of the time, they’re based off a person I know or a mixture of two or more people I know or find fascinating. (It’s a compliment, I swear!) The more I develop the characters, the more they form their own personalities and become less and less like the real life people they were based on. I take bits and pieces of what I’ve seen from random people and add them to my characters. A strange-looking tattoo, an odd hairstyle, a funny way of speaking…

Dreams are another good source of characters. The odd people who pop up in my subconscious mind are often nothing like the people I know in real life. A good number of my characters are based on people I’ve “met” in dreams. The imaginings of the subconscious mind can be an endless source of inspiration.

So… how do you create your characters?

21 thoughts on “The Making of a Character

    1. I often wonder what people think when we stare at them… or maybe it’s something I don’t want to know… Thanks, Laura!


      1. Ha ha ha! I recently (rather accidentally) listened to another conversation at a community dining table in a restaurant, and one guy was so fascinating, I stalked him in the parking lot and asked if I could interview him for a local newspaper column. He was pleased. But then again, I explained myself… and I kept my staring to a minimum since he was right across the table!


  1. I create characters based on the needs of my story. I start out with an image of the person and then just write. The person slowly begins to pick up habits and ways of speaking, but the characters don’t overwhelm their storyline.

    Honestly, I have such crazy nightmares, I’ve always feared putting them on paper. I know they won’t come true, but I’d prefer to quit exploring them all the same.


    1. I usually start with interesting characters and base the story around them. I like character-driven stuff… people and the way they change are more fascinating than plot to me. Thanks, Jessica!


  2. I try not to stare (this is New York, after all, and people sometimes get a bit testy), but I do try to observe. And yes, a couple of times I’ve seen people on the subway who I thought were characters of mine. It was difficult to avoid staring then. πŸ™‚

    As you say, I often get characters from people I know, often bits of one or two different people. But yes, they quickly take on lives of their own and start saying and doing things that the real person would never do.

    There are a few characters that I have no idea where they came from. A couple I’ve been writing about for forty years, and I can’t really remember a time when they weren’t there.


  3. I love watching people! I am happy in the corner of a party, just sipping a drink and eavesdropping.

    The other night, George Clooney appeared in my dreams. He was changing a bedpan in a hospital. Demoted from doctor to ER to nurse’s aide. πŸ™‚

    Hmm . . . my characters seem to arrive of their own volition, not fully formed, but they reveal themselves over time. Not sure how much of them is “my” creation and how much is me just seeing them as they are.


    1. Poor Clooney, haha! Interesting look at your characters… maybe I take the “you can play God” part of character creation too seriously and try to make them into something too much… but they usually tell me what they want. πŸ™‚


  4. One of my stories came from listening to a trio seated behind me in a restaurant, and many of my characters have come from people I’ve known over the years. I do at least change their names. . .

    Of course, there are other reasons for watching people in crowds. People don’t just act in interesting ways; sometimes, they do unpleasant things. And sometimes, they do good things.


    1. Occasionally I use real people that I know, and under their real first names. Just as walk-ons, minor characters. There’s one friend who I was out of touch with a couple of decades and I used him as a minor character in a story. I know he’s never read the story, or I would have got a “Hey, that’s me!” email. πŸ™‚


      1. Sometimes I use peoples’ real names, but only as placeholders until I get a name that suits the character a bit better and until the character begins to develop into a person different from the real-life inspiration. Don’t want to get sued or anything. πŸ™‚


  5. I’m going to write a story about a bunch of crazy writers staring at each other for a few hours.

    I still don’t know where my characters come from. I just start writing and they show up.


  6. Interesting post. πŸ™‚
    I get inspired watching people or talking to strangers, but not for main characters. My main characters always show up complete – often with a story to tell. For minor characters, however, I like to base bits on people (not the entire person, just a few traits).


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