Character Creation: How To Breathe Life Into Your Character

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Writing | 1 comment

Character Creation: How To Breathe Life Into Your Character

Some people hate plotting.

I love it.

In fact, it’s often my REWARD. Edit four scenes, and you can character chart. Edit half the manuscript, and you can grab that notebook and start scribbling plot points!

Buttt…sometimes the hardest part of character creation is making the characters real. How do you know who the characters are past their traits and personality points if you haven’t written them yet? How can they come alive?


How can you make your character feel real?


For me, it all starts with the name. Sorry Shakespeare, a name makes a lot of difference.

I was almost named Bianca. True story.

If you’d like to take a minute to reflect on that, you can ponder what my initials would have been.

Don’t get me wrong,  I can be feisty (when my nose isn’t in a book), but there is no way I could have made it through a high school in the South with the initials BJ. No way. And I wouldn’t wish that fate on any girl.

The right name makes a lot of difference. I’ll answer to Kristen. I’ll answer to KJ. If you’re my mom, I’ll answer to Kris. If you’re the one exasperating person in the world that gets away with this, I’ll answer to Princess. But just try calling me Kristy. Nope. Not happening.

Each of those names has a different feel. To me, Kristy will always be a bossy tomgirl thanks to The Babysitter’s Club. Kristen is proper, maybe artistic. KJ is more casual – it doesn’t feel as fenced in, and gives a character more room to grow. What name has the right feel for your character?


You may have realized it by now – but I have a rather  unorthodox way of doing things. Not only do I need a name for my characters to feel alive, I need a face.  I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I don’t have my folder of faces on this computer while thinking of my newest character.  What traits does your character’s look have to convey?

My currently not telling me her name character is “All-American”. Wholesome. Innocent, but doesn’t exactly blend in either. Her love interest is attractive, not quite so conventional, and a little unpredictable but not in a way you can’t bring home to mom. I could be lazy here and go with my usual “attractive guy” – we all know the face I’m talking about right?

Property of Warner Brothers

But that doesn’t work. Why not? If every male character looks the same, how I will I be able to think of them differently? How can you keep Joe from the the contemporary series to not be awfully close to Dean from the paranormal series?

(Points to anyone who sees what I did there.)

Yes, this means I have to resist the urge to cast Jensen Ackles as every single male character. It’s a sad existence.

So we ponder. Ian Harding? Nope, used him in my last manuscript. And his character in that project…way different feel than this one. Moving on.

Alexander Koch? I have been wanting to use him…but let’s be honest, he reminds me too much of an ex for that to not affect my character. Moving on.

Josh Henderson? Maybe. He might be too pretty. Boys this pretty can’t do what Holden needs to do. (Sorry pretty boys. I still love you Rob Lowe. Call me.)

Graham Patrick Martin? I quickly realized he’s Jake’s friend from Two and Half Men. ABORT. I can’t swoon after you.


(In order of appearance)


And then it was down to two: Chris Olivero and Lachlan Buchanan. BFF would say Lachlan has the hair for this character (she envisions him in need of a hair cut for reasons I don’t even want to know).


And I’d decided on Chris.

But then something interesting happened.

Google images showed me Matt Dallas. Because they’d been in something or another together. And everything clicked. I could see Holden’s smug and confident grin as he turns around. I could see the look he shoots her across a crowded restaurant when all hell’s about to break out. I could see Holden – stronger than he’d ever been.

And my work was done.



Ta-da! I know my glorious, gorgeous character! Holden, how I love you already. Until the next time you exasperate me of course.


Note: I may write YA, but I tend to not cast at that age because I need to be attracted to love interests in my head. Find what works for you. I have a hard time using age appropriate cast members because then I can’t relate to them. If I choose them at an older age, I can just imagine them younger in my head if ever necessary. (It isn’t, typically.)


Hint: IMDB lists are fab for face hunting. Start with one actor. Peruse all lists. All the lists.


What process makes your characters feel more real to you?

Kristen Jett, YA writer, and co-founder of Pen and Muse.

One Comment

  1. I use Pinterest to pin the faces that inspire my characters. That way I can easily reconnect with a character from anywhere. And, like you, I need a face and a name to make my charactets feel real.

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