The Zero-Fuckery Quick-Create Guide To Kick-Ass Characters (And All The Crazy Plot Stuff That Surrounds ‘Em)

When writers are tasked with creating characters, we are told to try these character exercises that entreat us to answer rather mad questions about them: hair color, eye color, toe length, nipple hue, former job, phone number of former job supervisor, what she had for lunch, if she were a piece of Ikea furniture what piece would she be (“Billy bookcase! NO WAIT, A SKJARNNGFLONG LINGONBERRY-FLAVORED COCKTAIL TRAY”). And so on and so forth.

Most of these are, of course, abject badger-shite.

They get you as close to creating a strong, well-realized and interesting character as jumping off your roof with a blankie on your back gets you to flying.

And yet, I am frequently emailed (or in the old English, ymailt) about how one creates good characters on the fly. The short answer to that is, mostly, you don’t. Characters are not a fast soup — they’re a long-bubbling broth developing flavors the longer you think about them and, more importantly, the more you write about them. (Which one assumes is the point of the inane questions asked by many character exercises, which would be a noble effort if those questions were not so frequently concerned with details and decisions that will never have anything to do with your character, your story, or your world.)

Just the same, I decided to slap on the ol’ thinking-cap (seriously, it’s really old and gross and I think a guy died in this hat) to come up a quick springboard that should get your head around a character quickly, efficiently and creatively. Note that this isn’t a system I generally use as yet — it’s me noodling on things. Just putting it out there for you all to fold, spindle, and mutilate. Especially what with NaNoWriMo right around the bend, right? Right.

Let’s do this.

The Character Logline:

Right up front, I want you to identify who the character is. And you’re going to do it in a very brief way, the same way you would conjure a logline (or “elevator pitch”) for your story at hand. You will identify this character in the same space allowed for a single tweet — so, 140 characters.

If you need help, try writing a few character loglines for pre-existing characters from other storyworlds — “Dexter Morgan is a serial killer with a code of honor hiding in plain sight among the officers of the Miami Police Department.” Or “Boba Fett is an inept bounty hunter in Mandalorian battle armor who sucks a lot at his job and gets eaten by a giant dusty desert sphincter.” Whatever. (Want practice? describe a few well-known characters in the comments.)

Problem:

Right up front, the character has a problem. A character’s problem is why the character exists in this storyworld, and this problem helps generate plot (plot, after all, is Soylent Green — it is made of people). Identify the problem. Shorter is again better (and note that you may have inadvertently identified the problem in the logline above, which is not only fine, but awesome).

Problems could be anything that defines the character’s journey: “Hunted by an unkillable star beast;” “Can’t get it up in bed;” “Trapped in an alternate dimension and unable to get home;” “Pursued by chimpanzee crime syndicate;” “Lost child in divorce;” “Life’s worth stolen by dirigible-dwelling pirate-folk;” “Can’t find gluten-free muffins in this goddamn city.”

If you take John McClane from Die Hard, his problem isn’t really the terrorists — not as a character problem. The terrorists are a plot problem, but we’ll get to that in a second. John’s actual problem is his separation from his wife. That’s his issue. That’s what drives him.

Buffy Summers is a character who wants to be a normal teen, but isn’t.

The problem is why we’re here. It’s why we’re watching this character, right now.

Solution:

The character will also have a proposed solution to that problem. I’m not talking about You The Storyteller solving the problem. I’m talking about what the character thinks is or should be the solution. A solution that, in fact, the character will pursue at the start of the story.

The character who is hunted by he unkillable star beast, well, she may decide that she has to escape to the fringes of the universe where her soul can be remade in the Nebula Forge, which she believes is the only way to throw off the scent.

The character who can’t find gluten-free muffins is going to try to bake her own. (THE FOOL!)

John McClane’s solution to his separation is to fly all the way out to LA from NY and reconnect with his wife at her office Christmas party.

If we are to assume that Dexter Morgan’s problem is: “Dexter is a secret serial killer,” his solution is to “hide in plain sight in Miami Metro PD.” (One might suggest that it his solution is to “cleave to a code of honor that forces him to kill only criminals,” but I think that’s something else — and I’ll get there in a minute, I promise, cool your testes-and-or-teats, Doctor Impatience.)

The Conflict Between:

In between a character’s problem and solution is a wonderful tract of jagged, dangerous landscape called HOLY SHIT, CONFLICT.

Or, if you’d prefer, it’s less a landscape and more a GIANT SPIKY WALL. Or a gauntless of FISTS AND KNIVES AND BLUDGEONING STICKS. Or whatever image gets you to grasp the perilous potential between points A (problem) and Z (solution).

It’s possible that this space is practically auto-generated, that the conflict writes itself as a product of the problem -> solution dichotomy. With Dexter, his problem is being a serial killer, and his solution is to embed himself in Miami PD. That conjures an immediate and easy-to-imagine conflict. Serial killer? Working for the police? Easy to see the conflict there. (I haven’t seen the last two seasons, but my understanding is they failed to capitalize on this great conflict.)

John McClane’s problem and solution auto-generate conflicts that don’t really fit in the context of an action movie. And so the writers created a kick-ass external conflict — in this case, THE INEPTITUDE OF THE LOCAL POLICE AND FBI. Oh, and also, some dude named Hans Gruber?

But even external conflicts are key to the character — the conflict born in the gulf between McClane’s problem and his solution is still one that demands the best efforts of his cop nature. The writers didn’t give him a love triangle, or a cantankerous mother-in-law, or a stuck pickle jar. He’s a bad-ass dude with a gun and a badge and no shoes and so they gave him a gaggle of terrorists. (More on his unfixable undeterred cop nature in a few.)

Ultimately, try to mine the rich, loamy, ruby-laden earth between what the character wants and what the character cannot have.

Limitations:

A limitation is generally internal — meaning, it’s something within the character that exists as part of their nature. This limitation hobbles them in some way, altering their problem/solution dichotomy (which we could ostensibly call “the mission”).

Remember how I was talking about Dexter’s “code of honor?” I consider this a limitation to his character — we the audience would perceive that as a strength but to Dexter, it’s also a limitation. It puts a limit on his role as a serial killer and thus creates not only a deeper character, but also offers new plot angles and opportunities for tension.

Limitations are traits of the character’s that get in her way — they might be flaws or frailties but they can just as easily be positive traits that make trouble for the character and the plot. You might say that Buffy’s limitations were her age, her immaturity, and her emotional entanglements with problematic boyfriends (seriously, Buffy, what’s with the choice in dudes?).

Complications:

Complications tend to be external — they are entanglements outside the character that complicate their lives. These can be more character-based or more plot-based depending on which aspect of the story you’re working. John McClane’s job is a character complication — he’s married more to the job than he is to his wife, which is what leads to the problem, which demands a solution, which opens the door for conflict. And the conflict is further complicated by his intensely cop-flavored demeanor, because he just can’t let this thing go. He throws himself into danger again and again not just because his wife is in the building, but because this is who he is. Shoeless and largely alone, all he is is pure, unmitigated yippie-kay-ay cowboy copper.

(And of course the rub is, a character’s limitations and complications are also the things that may help them succeed in their mission even while still causing them grave disorder.)

Greatest Fear:

Short but sweet: what does the character fear most? Death. Love. Disease. Losing one’s best friend. Bees. Toddlers. Chimpanzees with clown makeup. Lady Gaga. Whatever. It’s useful to identify the character’s fear — meaning, the thing they most don’t want to encounter or see happen — because you’re the storyteller, and you’re cruel, and now you have this Awful Thing in your pocket. And whenever you want, you can bring the Awful Thing out of its demon-box and harangue the character with it to see which way she jumps.

Description:

Description for characters is overrated — again, a lot of these character exercises seem hell-bent to have you figure out their eyebrow color and genital measurements and other useless metrics. That said, I do think a little description is good, and here’s what you’re going to do:

Write a description. Keep it to 100 words. Less if you can manage (once again consider the 140-character limitation). Do not hit all the bases. Do not try to stat them up like a fucking baseball player. Listen, when you look at someone, you take away a visual thumbprint of that person — it’s pushed hard into the clay of your memory. You don’t remember every little detail or aspect. Rather, you remember them as, that gangly Lurch motherfucker with the flat-top hair-do and the lips like grave-worms, or, that woman shaped like a butternut squash with the frock that smelled like cigarettes and old terriers. 

A short, sharp shock of character description. And a tip on description: writers are best describing things that break the status quo, that violate our expectations. In other words, find the things that make the character visually unique, interesting, odd, curious — different. Cleave to those.

The Test Drive:

The character’s voice and behavior is still a bit alien to you at this point — conjuring all these details and entanglements still doesn’t let you zip into their skin and grab their vocal chords like a flight stick in order to pilot them around (suddenly I’m getting a really weird narrative Pacific Rim metaphor and I must like it a lot because I think I have a boner — what shut up it’s a metaphorical boner jeez you people you’re so Puritanical with your “ew he’s talking about boners again”). So, my advice is:

Take ’em for a test drive. Said it before, will say it again: write a thousand-word piece of flash fiction with Your Brand New Shiny Character in the starring role. Drive him around. Ding him up. Challenge him! Force him to talk to other characters: an obstinate cab driver, a belligerent cop, a drunken orangutan. Give him a new problem or one related to the character explicitly.

Let ’em speak. Let ’em act. See what they do when you get behind the wheel.

Inhabit the character.

And you may come away with new material you want to use in a longer work.

Rewrite The Logline:

All that’s said and done?

Rewrite the original logline.

Sharpen it like a fucking stake you’re gonna stick into a vampire’s chesty bits.

The reason you’re rewriting is:

a) Because your idea of the character may have changed a little or a lot through this whole process so, best to revisit and revamp accordingly.

and

b) Because you better get used to revision and tweaking things — plots, characters, sentences — to hone them into molecule-splitting story-razors.

And That’s That

That’s it. A quick path through character creation in what hopefully distills that character down to his or her bare quintessence. More importantly, it’s a process that in a perfect world gets you into their headspace and the plotspace that surrounds them, thus allowing you to drop-kick them right into the story without any hitches or hiccups. Thoughts, comments, questions, complaints, prayer requests, death threats, proposals of marriage —

Drop ’em in the comments.

143 comments

  • Most wouldn’t give up these thoughts so freely as you do. They would keep them in their basement freezer in seperate plastic baggies. So cool the way you put this. Once again, you don’t regurgitate the same old generic dribble.

    • Likewise. I’m heading into a very emotional scene between two characters about to have A Very Serious Talk. The situation’s complicated… and I realized that I needed more details about both of them in order for the argument to really work at all, let alone flow as smoothly as I need it to go. Writing it, I mean, not that they’ll observe strict adherence to the rules of debate.

  • I’m copying and pasting today’s post in my “How to Write Right” manual along with all the other wonders I have collected from this site. Also, I am putting the manual in the folder on my desktop that contains the six books I just bought from you. I have decided, definitely, that I am going to get them out, line them up in a row (still on my desktop) and actually read them and put them to work. Soon. As soon as I can work up the actual courage. I read them when you post them but I’ve not put them into practice. I will do it, though. Soon. Really. I think. Ummm, do you have anything in the way of a force-me-to-work-or-die-never-fail-cattle-prod handy that you could upload? NO? Dang. I was afraid of that. I think this one may have tipped the scales and will get me going. Maybe. I am very grateful for all the help you provide, in any case. Thank you!!

  • “Nipple hue” = mauve

    On a more serious note: Yes. This. Thank you.

    Going to use those nineteen-page character questionnaires to line the bottom of my gecko cage now.
    (What? I don’t have a badger handy.)

  • it strikes me that john mcclain’s excessive dedication to his job as a cop is a limitation, as it’s internal, rather than a complication. everything you describe about his devotion to his job strikes me as coming from inside him. the most obvious complication is the terrorist attack on the building (a plot-based complication). if you mean to say that his job is a character-based complication, then it would be that because he’s a cop, if the terrorists discover they have a cop as a hostage, it could put him in danger. but it’s his character limitation that he can’t leave well enough alone and has to be a hero and stop the criminals, even if it puts himself and everyone else in danger.

    a small nitpick, on what is otherwise a very useful way of looking at character development.

  • Excellent, as always. Yet another one of your posts for my Writing Related bookmarks folder… which, frankly, you’re coming to dominate.

  • Sage wisdom, once again. Thank you. Call it clairvoyance, but I detect a strong undertone of hinting for a really amazing gluten free muffin recipe…so here goes…just be mindful that I still am living in a freaking hotel room, without a real oven, and I frequently am called upon by my volunteer work at ‘Hogwarts’ (don’t ask) to make 30 petri dishes at a time for the students…Great muffin recipes?…a whole book full of them. Here goes!
    Muffins to Slim By: Fast Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Bread & Muffin Recipes to Mix and Microwave in a Mug (Volume 1) Paperback by Em Elless, Amazon (dare I suggest?), paperback, $8.96. Dare I say…Gluten-Free living has changed my life for the better. I’m a much nicer person, thanks to personal favorite Red Velvet muffins…skinnier too!

  • Could not help applying all the above to the character in my newest book, and was glad to find he passed muster. Ha! Ahhh. Hah. Haaa. And phew.

  • Is it possible the abject badger-shite is actually a subversive means to prepare authors for inane questions in interviews? Questions like ‘What’s your favourite colour/dessert?’ while neatly avoiding mention of your actual work and any mention of being published lately?

  • I thought I was the only one who thought those massive character description templates were horse shit. I felt that it was enough to know that he was a 6′ 7″ lawyer with a tattoo of “The Triumph of Death” on his back, who wanted to kill somebody. I don’t need to know his favorite color.

    Thanks, brilliant post as always. I’m in awe of your use of the language.

  • You had me at “Ikea.”

    (Suddenly, it occurred to Lindy that the above sentence could be taken several ways. Taken roughly. Taken repeatedly. Taken in the “build your own bookshelves” aisle, under full view of security cameras. Seems like a good day for blackmail, thinks Lindy. She has the tapes.)

  • This is so valuable and so easy to understand that I can’t even speak. I’m going to go write about ten books now. They’re going to be good, too.

  • to be super serious for a sec — So many new writers think that a character’s internal conflict, desire, and fear leads to boring chunks o’ backstory and the dreaded “telling” — and they are dead ass wrong. We need to keep telling them so!

  • I did a break down of “Big Trouble in Little China” with this method. I focused on Jack Burton and thought it was funny that, in the end, it was all about Wang owing him money. Everything else from the movie was external events that were just in the way of Wang paying up on a bet he lost. Never noticed it before.

  • For those who like to copy and paste useful info (like me), here’s the shrink-wrapped version:

    THE CHARACTER LOGLINE: Right up front, I want you to identify who the character is.
    PROBLEM: Right up front, the character has a problem. A character’s problem is why the character exists in this storyworld. The problem is why we’re here. It’s why we’re watching this character, right now.
    SOLUTION: The character will also have a proposed solution to that problem.
    THE CONFLICT BETWEEN: In between a character’s problem and solution is CONFLICT.
    LIMITATIONS: A limitation is generally internal — meaning, it’s something within the character that exists as part of their nature. Limitations are traits of the character’s that get in her way
    COMPLICATIONS: Complications tend to be external — they are entanglements outside the character that complicate their lives.
    GREATEST FEAR: Short but sweet: what does the character fear most, the thing they most don’t want to encounter or see.
    DESCRIPTION: A short, sharp shock of character description

    • jnduncan, it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who does that! I copy the articles, then cut&paste stuff like this to a separate one and use them as sort-of templates to help me clarify my mind.

      Chuck-boy, I can’t tell you how many things you’ve helped me with with stuff like this! You are my writing superhero!

  • Thanks for the probably-not-planned-but-still-timely NaNo prep! My MC needs some fleshing out. Which of these would you suggest applying to secondary characters or love interests? All of them? Only some?

  • Walter White: A former chemistry teacher with terminal cancer who seeks financial security for his wife and children by producing methamphetamine.

    Talk about your built-in conflict.

    • I am going to try and be smart here. I may fail terribly. Walt’s problem entering the storyline, to me, would be he feels he has no voice, no power, and that he’s been chronically castrated by the likes of Hank (remember the opening episodes birthday party). His career and his life are just a fraction of his potential self, and he’s leading the life of quiet desperation. Cancer and chemo and crystal are just the catalyst for him to not be so quiet about this anymore.

  • Kneel before Zod. Or of he’s stuck in a mirror, do the next best thing and kneel before Chuck.
    This writerly advice deserves a worthy reward. I entrust you with the knowledge of the Whiskey Tim Tam Slammer. (Replace your flat white with hard liquor. Slam as usual.) Inner child meets adult kicks.

  • Actually, I’m writing a character where genital measurements are germaine. His generous endowment is one of the reasons he doesn’t try to nail the virgin as quickly as possible.

  • Ok, here we go. Above lesson applied (on the fly pretty much, to current story idea):

    THE CHARACTER LOGLINE: Right up front, I want you to identify who the character is.
    • The hero: a laissez faire detective who wants to train the heroine to get her agenda out of her head before it gets her killed.
    • The heroine: cop from dv unit promoted to detective wants to change law enforcement’s attitude toward family violence.
    • The bad guy: whacked guy, hellbent on cleansing the world of abusers, i.e. his father.
    PROBLEM: Right up front, the character has a problem. A character’s problem is why the character exists in this storyworld. The problem is why we’re here. It’s why we’re watching this character, right now.
    • The hero: new detective trainee has a chip on her shoulder and is going to get her ass killed if she doesn’t learn how the “real” world works. It doesn’t help there some asshat out there whacking abusers, disrupting his notion of the real world.
    • The heroine: law enforcement has a real problem dealing with family violence. It doesn’t, and she means to change it. A serial killer out there hunting down abusers challenges her notion of justice.
    • The bad guy: Need to cleanse of the guilt of “becoming his father” and killing his fiancé by killing every representative of dad that he can lay his hands on.
    SOLUTION: The character will also have a proposed solution to that problem.
    • The hero: demonstrate to heroine that nothing you can will “fix” anything. People break the law, you arrest them, end of story.
    • The heroine: prove to hero that proper interactions can indeed save lives, and that they, as cops, are obligated to do so.
    • The bad guy: keep killing abusers until this guilt goes away.
    THE CONFLICT BETWEEN: In between a character’s problem and solution is CONFLICT.
    LIMITATIONS: A limitation is generally internal — meaning, it’s something within the character that exists as part of their nature. Limitations are traits of the character’s that get in her way.
    • The hero: caring too much is the road to ruin, thus, not caring too much about anything keeps you safe from having any of that shit dumped on you.
    • The heroine: survivor of horrible family violence incident in which father killed mother, in which she blames herself for trying to interfere and causing mother’s death. Colors every interaction she has with people as a cop and a woman.
    • The bad guy: nothing will get rid of the guilt.
    COMPLICATIONS: Complications tend to be external — they are entanglements outside the character that complicate their lives.
    • The hero: emotional involvement with heroine. He starts caring for her a little too much. Killer sparks questions about his own ideology, leading to disturbing revelations about own family.
    • The heroine: she wants the killer to get away with it. Dad is getting out of prison after twenty years. Despite frustrating beliefs, she likes hero and his ability to let everything just wash over him without seeming effect.
    • The bad guy: nothing he does is making any of this better. Cops are closing in.
    GREATEST FEAR: Short but sweet: what does the character fear most, the thing they most don’t want to encounter or see.
    • The hero: caring enough about anything that it becomes more important than anything else in life.
    • The heroine: confronting father. Actually trusting a man again.
    • The bad guy: that he truly has become the monster his father was.
    DESCRIPTION: A short, sharp shock of character description
    • The hero: An icon of indifference. From his hair down to his clothing, the man demonstrates an air of not caring much about anything.
    • The heroine: a fit, size 12 no matter what she tries, without a single sharp angle on her entire body, and a perpetual, embarrassing rosy tinge to her cheeks.
    • The bad guy: the antithesis of his slovenly, drunken father. A meticulous, corporate geek.

  • Awesome. This straight forward, no frilly bullshit guide is just what I needed as I mad scramble to prepare for NaNoWriMo. So thanks Chuck and seriously man you need to open a window, the stink coming off that thinking cap is powerful enough to rule nations.

  • At the risk of overlooking the obvious, I’m at a bit of a conundrum with my character.

    Normally, the character has a built in problem, and trying to solve said problem is the point of plot.

    But what about your typical hero’s quest? Normal dude who’s a farmer discovers he’s the one the prophecy told us about who will save the world. The plot will be him trying to save the world, but what about his internal life before he found out he was the chosen one? I know this is a cliche example, and a lot of the chosen one stuff don’t have complicated inner turmoil, but I want that. I want the character to be at war with himself, and what other people think is his destiny.

    I just feel sort of lost of how to balance the character having a normal life prior to the plot, and not living until the plot says so. I don’t know if this makes any sense or not, but it seems like most chosen one stuff makes the character a bartender or farmer, something they can just drop whatever they’re doing and run off to save the world.

    This doesn’t give you any of the wonderful character stuff Chuck is talking about. None of the internal conflict, having to choose between one thing or another. It’s just, oh crap I hope I’m good enough to save the world. All the internal conflict happens after the plot starts up, not before when they were Joe Everyman.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a good job of subverting this. There could have been better choices, IMO, but the overall set up of a normal girl wanting to be normal, but she isn’t, is great. But how to apply that to adult characters who don’t have to worry about keeping up with what her mom thinks she’s doing?

    I’m going to keep noodling this, but I was hoping you genius here at terribleminds, or Chuck himself, would have a way of looking at it that will finally make this work for me.

    I’m off to go pound my head against some more walls.

    • I think the issue is conflating “normal” with “mundane”. I may not be able to fly or shot laser beams out of my buttocks, but I have fights with co-workers and struggle with awkward issues and the like. Being a medieval farmer or innkeeper was actually a quite difficult life, subject to droughts and taxation and petty fuedal disputes. The life of a farmer might be quite interesting long before she grows wings and learns how to throw a sword through someone’s brain.

      Look at some of the examples above. Being a chemistry teacher – not inherently interesting! Being a beat cop – not inherently interesting! But the devil is in the details. Did your bartender found the inn, or is she indebted to another? Is the farm on contested land? Is she subject to a burdensome lien, or is she a member of an exploited ethnic / religious minority? These are “normal” problems, but gosh darn they can become interesting on the turn of a dime.

      • I like the way your mind works. I’m used to working with plots that come out of the main character’s fuck ups, so this plot before character feels backwards to me. But as you said, she can still have issues that matter and trouble her prior to the chosen one thing.

        My story is set in modern day, I was using epic fantasy as an example, but your questions still hold true about figuring out the character’s life and what is a conflict for them. All I could think of was things that would compete with the plot. A quest to find her mother’s murderer, for example, would be compelling, but it would also take up a lot of plot time I’d rather devote to her going out and hunting demons. 😀

        I am trying to subvert a lot of the chosen one tropes. I’ve watch/read a lot of media that focus on the Hero’s Journey, so hopefully it will read as interesting take on the trope rather than the same old bullshit.

        Thanks for commenting on my comment, you’ve been a big help. I am copy-pasting this and the other comments into my character file for reference.

    • In addition to David’s point, I’d add that you get some good mileage out of asking *why* your epic-quest hero is saving the world. What’s in it for them? It Has To Be You Because We Said So is crap logic that smart characters don’t have patience with; what’s their motivation for being the one to step in front of the world-devouring dragon?

      Ari Marmell has a book called The Conqueror’s Shadow that plays with a lot of stock fantasy tropes in a really self-aware way, and his hero is an ex-villain who is now stepping up to stop a *new* villain from wreaking havoc so that he can go back to retirement and keep his family safe. Alternately, think about how the memories of the Shire keep Frodo and Sam struggling on further into Mordor. Saving the world is rarely about The World as a grand abstraction — it’s about saving the little corner of the world that the character lived in before, about preserving or improving or recovering something that was already important before the threat showed up.

      • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Pat Rothfuss is also a good data point. Kvothe is introduced as a cocky, precocious, lovesick kid (and also a member of a disreputable ethnic minority) long before the doomy dooms of doom attack.

        Or if you want to look to Mr. Wendig for inspiration, Cael from Under the Empyrean Sky is a horny, lovelorn, rough-and-tumble kid trying to escape an arranged marriage and best a rival gang leader before he gets touched by the hand of destiny to take down the dystopian empire.

      • Why is always a good question, and I need to focus more on it.

        Part of my struggle was anything I gave her to compete with the “chosen one duty” seemed silly or trite. Keeping your family’s business afloat versus fighting demons trying to start an apocalypse seems like a no-brainer choice, but I’m overlooking the “why” of it all. So maybe she does choose to go off and fight demons, but not without great personal cost. Thanks for the awesome kick in the butt!

        I haven’t heard of that book, so thanks for the recommendation. I’m trying to read a lot of stuff that does smart things with their chosen ones so I can see how doing it well is done.

    • Just because some watery tart lobs a sword at your head is no reason to expect to yield supreme power of any kind. No one cares about saving the world; they only care about who and what they love. If a billion people got raptured right NOW I’m not sure I’d notice.

      Love is the only true motivation (IMHO) for the hero’s quest, even if thats only love-of-self. Not being personally eaten/enslaved/sucked into the singularity is enough. Threaten to throw the guys DOG into the maw of the Kraken — also a good motivator.

      • Awesome Monty Python reference, and I like your point. Love would be a good motivation, and more personal than “Prophecy told me so” because my character isn’t going to buy that prophecy bullshit anyway.

  • Fabulous. I started trying to work these things out for the main character of my upcoming project, and all of a sudden I’m jotting down notes about the kind of emotional development he needs to have alongside the plane crashes and fleeing from bloodhounds and what have you. Thanks for the perspective!

  • THANK YOU. This is AH-MAZE-BALLS. Thanks so much for this, Chuck! Looking forward to more wisdom during NaNoWriMo to make me hit my ‘usual’ 80k NaNo word count goal…(I hope!)

  • Jeebus, Mister. I mean, you rock and all, but this is some Vulcan mind-meld now-with-kung-fu-grip level stuff. You are the profane sugar-daddy of writing mojo and I heart you.

  • Hello,

    Thank you for the article, Chuck!

    I’ve only skimmed through it so far due to time constraints, but before I make the time to read it properly just a quick word on the topic:

    I’ve recently had a great time using a “character creation sheet” that I got from here: http://www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html

    I think that filling in details about characters relatives, likes, dislikes, and the like (please excuse the pun) can sometime help a story get some flesh on its bones. Or at least, when I approached it with the attitude that I only had to fill it with information (read: with madman’s scribbles) relevant to the story, so it seemed to work.

    So, yeah. Thought I’d share. Peace & love.

  • THANK YOU for confirming my belief that all those character sheets/exercises are rubbish, and most likely a form of procrastination. I love learning about my characters as I go along, but you’ve given some excellent start points to at least get the skeleton of a character.

    • No disrespect to Chuck (I think he’s doing a great thing here), but keep in mind that whatever you read on this site is just his thoughts based on his personal experiences. So while one approach might work for Chuck W., another might work better for Jim B., and what might work for you can be something different entirely. Try everything and see what clicks.

      Yeye. It’s me again, giving unsolicited advise on another man’s blog. Go Team Tyro.

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