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Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers

11 October 2014


From Roger Colby at Writing is Hard Work

This week has been hectic.

The 11th grade research paper was due and I have been in the middle of grading them. Such is my life.
However, in the midst of this, I have been thinking about what makes excellent characterization as I construct my newest character driven novel series.

In Orson Scott Card’s book Character and Viewpoint, he states that when creating characters, writers must ask three questions: “Who?” “So What?” and “Huh?”

What Scott Card means by this is that we first must answer who the character is, why the reader should care about the character and then finally the writer must remove all doubt about whether or not the reader should follow this character throughout the writer’s narrative.


I put together a few tips of my own that will address Scott Card’s questions concerning crafting characters, and I hope they help you as well:

Real World Avatar –

I found a neat little feature on Scrivener used for character creation that allows me to insert a picture of my character in order to reference that particular character. This has allowed me to peruse Google images for an actor or actress or even concept art (for aliens) that would be a visual representation of the character I am creating. For my main character I envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch (if my book were a film) and so I inserted a picture of that actor on the character biography page. This helps me answer the “who” because my main character (if my book were a movie) would be played by Benedict as my first choice.

Curious Development –

The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel. If we do not create these curious developments we will find our readers leaving half-way through the novel to find something else to do. This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character that is only hinted at throughout the core of the plot and then revealed later. This element needs to be a mind-blower, something that probably might be out of character for them, but not enough that it defies logic. Life itself is not logical at times, and if we can translate that to text, we’ve done our job as novelists.

Well, now that I’ve shot out these few tips for the week, it’s off to grading the rest of the research papers. I only have seven left.


Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Creativity, Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice, Writing Tools

7 Comments to “Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers”

  1. I’ve never figured out how to use Scrivener, but the building of a character reminds me of some software I used years ago: Dramatica Pro (I think I’m remembering the name of it correctly). It was fun working out a story and getting to know characters through the software’s relentless questioning, but eventually I stopped using it because there was nothing more to discover while in the act of writing. The book was essentially “done” by the time I reached the point of thinking my way through the final chapter. It felt like drudgery to then sit down and write the thing.

    • My experience with Dramatica has been vastly different. I’ve had a storyform for over ten years – and the writing, learning to make characters, figuring out how to have the events I plotted out happen in a coherent story – that has been by far the harder and longer part.

      And I love the richness having to find a home for all those little answers has led to. I wouldn’t have thought of many of them – and they really contribute to what I like about the story I’m writing.

      I’m the extreme plotter kind – once I have a firm structure, I can create the building. I know, as it were, that it will be up to code. How it looks is then completely up to me. YMMV

      • I agree Dramatica does all that, but once I have the blueprints I don’t feel like building the house. I am not a plotter. For me, writing is all about the voice. But for many writers, Dramatica is an amazing tool.

  2. Hmm. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    I visualize my characters in my mind’s eye and prefer that to finding a photograph. Although it is fun to find an image very close to my imagined one when I design the cover. (I often, but not always, place my protag on the cover.)

    Using a template to devise “sympathetic” traits and a “curious development” would feel like boiling down my character from a living, breathing person into a flattened stereotype. I’d hate it!

    But…different strokes, I suppose. ::shrugs::

  3. I used Scrivener’s photo avatar, mainly because I figure it would help cover artists. However, I realize I will probably end up instructing them, “Like X, but without A and with B instead.”

    I feel better now. I simply cannot do those character interviews before I write the story. I usually ask just enough to get the ball going, then I discover other details as I write the story. Whatever I say about the characters before I get to know them isn’t likely to be “canon” anyway.

    Benedict Cumberbatch, hmm? Yes, his features might be easier to explain to a cover artist if I said the emperor looks like him. As opposed to the mental image I had of Shere Khan from Talespin. Except, not evil.

    ETA: Wow! I wanted to confirm my spelling of “Shere Khan.” Google has informed me that Cumberbatch will play Shere Khan in an upcoming movie. Apparently, Andy Serkis (who will direct) agrees with me about the resemblance.

  4. Many years ago, I heard from Raymond Feist some of the best writing advice of my career. He said he cast all his characters, putting an actor in each role, and it really helped him solidify how any given character spoke and moved in addition to what he or she looked like.

    Every actor takes on aspects of the character they’re playing, but it’s also true that every actor brings part of themselves to any portrayal. It’s that unique self that (when you use this method, anyhow) helps make characters live.

    One day when slogging through a chapter I was writing that just would NOT come to life, I remembered Ray’s advice, and in place of my fuzzily-envisioned hero and supporting characters, I put actors. The action and dialogue immediately crisped up to the point where I had to go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing. Now I don’t write anything until I know who’s playing my characters.

  5. The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel. … This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character … This element needs to be a mind-blower …

    (1) This is a cool idea.

    (2) But, no, it’s not “must”, “requires”, and “needs”. It’s just one way to write a cool story.

    I stick with Vlad Taltos because he’s a cool guy to hang out with. Yeah, sure, in some books his character has a strong internal plot twist. I think I prefer the ones where the plot twists are external.

    I read about Granny Weatherwax because she’s smart, and I want to see how she’s going to win. She always wins. I don’t need to discover anything mindblowing about her.

    So while I’ll admit that character-with-a-secret is an effective technique, I have to say that writing a character who’s cool to hang out with is just as effective.

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