Creating Compelling Characters (Physical description)

“…in order to create a character—think him up, animate him, stick with him for five hundred pages—a writer has to be enthusiastic about that character. Even if not everybody else is… All this is much easier if you have created original, complex, individual characters in the first place…”

Dynamic Characters: How to create personalities that keep readers captivated, Nancy Kress, now contributor to Writer’s Digest (monthly columnist to WD for many years)

Nancy advises to make the reader’s first encounter with your character memorable.

  • create a visual image, so we can picture the character in some important way
  • tell us something about the person inside
  • convey an impression of individuality, of someone unique and interesting, whom we will want to know more about.

To indicate personality, you can use a character’s appearance, her own reaction to her appearance, choice of clothes, details of the home, personal taste, and mannerisms. And you can use appearance to indicate a temporary situation, change of style, clothes when one who was poor becomes rich.


  1. Choose details that create strong visual images.
  2. Choose details that add up to an accurate, coherent impression of your character’s personality.
  3. Use word choices that further reinforce this impression.
  4. Don’t choose too many details. Quality over quantity.
  5. Use your effective details the first time we encounter your character, so we will want to keep reading.
Write on,

Creating Compelling Characters

Whenever I led writers’ groups, I found writers stretched to the limit. Squeezed between work and family obligations, grabbing spare minutes to write, they bought the recommended writing books that came along, but they had no time to read or apply the techniques the tomes contained.

Frequently I found myself condensing, combining, copying bits from here and there and passing out sheets at the meetings. One week might be some comedy techniques of Doug Adams, next week it might be on establishing tone.

That’s my task here. Every day give you a morsel to digest, use ASAP. Keep it short, simple.  KISS

Whenever possible, I use books written by the best—today it’s some tips on character from mystery writer Elizabeth George, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Tomorrow, some from Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress, tops in science fiction. I’ve read novels by both, they deliver what they’ve preached.

Each main character gets a character analysis, a complete bio.

She free writes, stream of consciousness, to start exploring the relationships.

“Create characters who are real to the reader, who evoke an emotional response within the reader, and you create suspense because the reader will want to know what’s going to happen to those people once the status quo is shattered by the primary event

One way to do this is to give the character an intention. This produces interest in the reader. It produces anticipation. If the reader cares about a character, the reader anticipates the problems he’s going to face. Using time also works to promote suspense.”

5 unique things that she does for each bio

  1. She establishes the character’s core need. This is something essential to him that, when denied, results in whatever constitutes his psychopathology.

Examples: need to be competent: good at everything you do.

flip       Self-castigation, he’d never act out.

  1. The supreme stress he’s ever under will be when his core need is thwarted. His pathological maneuver is the flip side of the core need.

Delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, hysterical ailments, hypochondria, illnesses, behaviors harming the self, behaviors harming others, manias, and phobias are all possible maneuvers.

If the core need is internal, the flip will also be internal.

  1. A character’s sexuality, history and attitudes.
  2. An event in the character’s past that has had a huge impact on him. This may never be stated in the novel.
  3. What does the character want in the novel? In each scene?

That’s enough, get writing.


Plot Defined

Plot is what happens.

What  your characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is the sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters.

These events are presented and organized as scenes and sequels with an emphasis on causality. The first scene must trigger an event that follows and so on down the line. Each scene must contain some conflict and It must trigger a subsequent scene.

There must be a climax, and then resolution.

Characters–The Most Important Component of Story

Several years ago I listened to a talk given by Lew Hunter, author of Screenwriting 434. (Great takeaway: No such thing as failures, they are deposits in your valuable inventory.)

Prior to speaking, Lew got to see part of a screenplay some audience members bravely acted out. I leaned forward, wondering if his critique of their work would match mine. But his response to them at the end, whatever they brought up, was that they had not defined their characters. We did not learn many secrets that night, but we learned the #1 priority.

Nothing can be worked on until you have believable, living characters.

“I turn to characters to learn more about my story.” Elizabeth George

Mystery novelist Elizabeth George completes a long bio for each character, we’ll look at some aspects of it tomorrow.

Write on,


Wired for Story

The writing book I’m currently reading is Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron. I recommend it highly for she’s written an informative, entertaining book on writing for the reader. I have five pages of notes so far, and I’m not through yet..

Some highlights:

All story is emotion based–if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading,

Everything in a story gets its emotional weight and meaning based on how it affects the protagonist. Nothing neutral allowed.

What moves a story forward are the protagonist’s actions, reactions and decisions, rather than the events that trigger them.


What does the story tell us about what it means to be human? What does the story say about how humans react to circumstances beyond their control? Knowing the theme in advance helps you because it gives you a guide by which to measure your characters responses to the situations they find themselves in.

Write on


Ideas for stories and novels.

As a novelist, I find the problem is not a lack of ideas; instead, it is finding one that will go the distance. I play with it until I find the emotional connection that compels me to write it. Often that is a part of the story’s theme. I suggest figuring out the theme of a novel as quickly as possible, use it as motivation to finish it.

Below are some sources of ideas that work for me.

  • Some person that intrigues you
  • A newspaper article (the catalyst of my present endeavor)
  • Something on social media
  • A sentence you’ve overheard  (if you don’t yet eavesdrop, begin)
  • Something you’ve done that would look strange to anyone watching: (my romance novel originally began, “Seated in his car, Jason watched as a strange woman exited her car with a bridal bouquet of orange roses. Not dressed in white, she then tossed the bouquet of orange roses over her head into the apartment dumpster behind her.”)

Your turn. What works for you?  And let me know if you have a specific topic you need covered immediately.

You Are Already a Writer

You already are a writer. Yes, you can do better in the grammar department, or with sentence variety, but that is not why you’ve come here.


This is what it boils down to. A great story can transcend even bad grammar and poor sentence construction and still get published.

Good news. Storytelling can be learned, the components are known. In fact, I believe it’s easier now than when I first began writing, due to the net. Specifically, flash fiction. I urge all writers to check out the flash fiction web sites (after I figure out how to, I will link to several).

In a brief amount of time, you can read story after story, seeing what is actually a story, and what isn’t. Can you tell a story in 100 words? Yes. In fact, if you start writing a novel, you will be expected to have a one- or two- sentence summation of it to pitch.
And remember, one of the most well-known stories in the world is only 250 words, the Bible’s Prodigal Son.

Start now. Every day, write a flash fiction. This is training for your eventual pitch sentences, and it will help you learn idea generation. Even if you’re currently working on a project, add this on.