Creating Dynamic Characters in 5 Easy Steps

Saturday, May 08, 2010

by: Anne Greenawalt

Everyone has a favorite character or characters from the books they read or the movies they watch. Who is yours? One of my favorite characters of all-time is Scout Finch because she is a courageous tomboy who tries to keep up with her older brother. The first time I read To Kill a Mocking Bird in seventh grade, I matched that description – I liked Scout because she was kind of like me and I could relate to her.

On the other hand, one of my other all-time favorite characters is Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and although I admire her character, I hope I don’t resemble her too much! Her darkness, power, ruthlessness and even her green skin has always intrigued me.

Have you ever wished to create a character that others will either love, or love to hate, for generations to come? Ever wondered how writers create these delectable characters? You can create dynamic, memorable characters by following these five easy steps.

Characterization Step #1: Appearance
What does your character look like?

Does she have blue hair and pink eyes? Is he short with wispy hair and a mole the size of a baseball on his left cheek? Is it twelve feet tall with orange spikes and purple spots? Anything unusual you can add will make your character more memorable. Think of your favorite characters or other popular characters. For example: Pippi Longstocking’s bright red pigtails that stick straight out to the side.

Characterization Step #2: Actions
How does your character act?

Is she a ghost haunting her hometown? Is he a boxing star competing on national television? Maybe he is always shy and quiet unless someone is picking on his little sister. Or perhaps she’s loud and bubbly and never sits still unless she’s sleeping – and even then she often talks in her sleep. In Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, my favorite book as a kid, Maniac is known for many of his actions such as untying the un-tyable knot.

Characterization Step #3: Thoughts
What does your character think about?

Does she brood all day about not being allowed to fly to the moon? Does he wish he was a superhero so he could save his city from evil? Tom the Builder in Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth often thinks about how to feed his family at the beginning of the novel. In The Glass Castle Jeannette worries about her parents.

Characterization Step #4: Speech
How does your character speak?

Does he have a lisp? Does she have a gravely, smoker’s voice? What types of things does your character say? Maybe he speaks with a British accent and calls everyone “mate.” Or perhaps she says, “You know?” at the end of every sentence. Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, for example, has a very distinctive, casual way of speaking.

Characterization Step #5: Interactions
How does your character interact with other characters?

Does he always steal the younger kids’ lunch money? Are she and her twin sister finishing each other’s sentences one minute and stealing each other’s boyfriend the next? You should consider your character’s best friend and your character’s worst enemy. For example, knowing that Harry Potter’s best friend is Ron Weasley – a normal, harmless wizard-to-be, and his worst enemy is Voldemort – the most evil and feared wizard of all, tells a lot about Harry Potter’s character.


Consider these five steps of characterization when you create your characters for your next story. By using all five steps, you can create dynamic, well-rounded, likeable – or detestable, but always memorable characters. Remember – the more unique the character’s qualities, the more memorable the character.

Stay tuned – my next post this month will contain my favorite characterization writing exercise!
Anne Greenawalt ( thinks strong characters are the most important part of any story.


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

In my WIP I'm working on making my characters more memorable - so thanks for the reminders. I'll look forward to the characterization exercise!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I quite agree with you, Anne! If we don't create characters to whom readers can relate or sympathize with, they won't care to read our books.

Jacqueline Seewald

Pat Wahler said...

Great suggestions!

Critter Alley

Anonymous said...

Terrific suggestions, all of them. If I may, I also find that 'tagging' your characters with certain themes helps guide their actions throughout your book. Simple, one word descriptions suffice (ie innocence), and are powerful indicators as to the soul of your characters.

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