Monday, October 18, 2010


Lise Horton

Stephanie Plum. Jack Reacher. Voldemort. Mr. Darcy. Anita Blake.   Striking characters, one and all. But how do the authors do it?

You’ve heard the question: Is the book ‘plot driven’ or ‘character driven’? As a reader, a great character always hooks me and I might even overlook plot shortcomings if the characters grab me. In genre fiction it is even tougher. Characters are expected to conform with ‘stock’ types, at least to some degree, both physically and psychologically. So making your characters come to life within that traditional framework, making them ‘breathe’, is vital. There are character trait/detail charts. Some authors create character surveys. Others create psychological profiles or do full biographical outlines.
I’m a biographer. I want to know every nuance of my characters, but most importantly (as a psych major, and method actress for over 25 years) I must get into their heads, to know what makes them tick, what drives them. I ask as I create: What frightens them? Arouses them? What makes them angry, happy, sad? What are their darkest secrets and their worst nightmares? What are they proud of? Ashamed of? How do they perceive themselves, and how are they perceived by others? Do these perceptions match?

Naturally physical details matter greatly, but character is key. Your hero is scarred – but how does he FEEL about that scarring? Your heroine is brilliant but how does her IQ meld with her total person?

What makes your characters human, fallible and flawed? They cannot be perfect or there’s no growth possible for the story (unless that sense of perfection IS the flaw!). A character must begin the story at one point, but evolve throughout and be changed by the end of the arc. Examine the changes in your characters: at the start, as the external conflicts act on them, as their internal conflict is invoked and motivation drives them forward – during the black moment, during the revelation, and at resolution. Do they grow and evolve believably? Are their actions and reactions consistent with the character personalities you created?

Much of what the author knows about his/her characters will never make it into the story spelled out in description. Instead, this knowledge and understanding on your part invests your characters with depth, complexity and humanity. It allows you to write believable actions and reactions that compliment those characters’ established personalities.

Too, the reading pleasure is in the MIX of unique characters. Just as character voices must differ, so must their personalities. Conflicts and motivations will differ, despite similar circumstances. Characters’ actions may be the same, but what drives them to take those actions will not be. You create character personalities that dictate how they will act and react. Make them human, varied and real and your story will come alive.

Watch for my coming blogs on characters: Crafting Your Hero, Creating Your Heroine, Drawing Your Villain and Writing Secondary Characters.

Until then, how do YOU create and develop characters?♥

Lise Horton loves to create characters from psychic kick-ass demon hunters, to WWII heroines, to erotic school teachers. She hopes fervently that readers will soon have an opportunity to get to know her literary "crew"! Share her journey and visit her at


  1. Okay, Anita Blake is from????? I know I should know, but I don't. The rest though I did. Which of course is the mark of a good character! Great post looking forwad to more!

  2. Anita Blake is Laurell K. Hamilton's vampire slayer, known in the undead community as "The Executioner". She's a marvelous character, particularly for a heroine: Dark, conflicted and so angry it gives demons pause! Laurell throws more bumps in Anita's path than you'd think you can bear, but she's found a way to surmount them all. Anita's generally considered to be the first of the "kick ass" urban fantasy heroines, and the forerunner of today's crop of bad ass gals. Glad you enjoyed Dee!