Critique Group

And a Star is Born…

In Characterization, Characters, Dawn Allen on March 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

He held the door for me at the QuikTrip. Tall, slender, wearing all black AND with a veil of long black hair I had to restrain myself from running my fingers through. The boy with him bore a strong resemblance, a son? His strong features and that hair left little doubt of his heritage and immediately I thought of my grandma and her dad. Grandma Marie bore the high cheekbones and the dark hair her Native American lineage. Okay, here’s where I admit to a bit of an embarrassing moment…or two. I stalked the man in the QT. Following him past the donuts and chips, I noted he wore black cowboy boots and black jeans with hand stitching on the back pockets. I know you think I was merely lusting for a total stranger…well, there was that, but I wanted every detail because that man was forming a character in my head.

By the time, I got home that day Sam Dakota lived and breathed in my imagination. The question that fleshed out his story was what would happen if a man who protected other people’s children for a living, lost his own child? The Drought of Sam Dakota was born.

This is a question often asked of authors. Where do characters come from? How do you flesh them out? How much is too much? How do you handle describing characters? Name them? How much control does or should an author have?

A character can be outlined, interviewed, drawn or pictures printed off the internet as inspiration, but once that character is in the story and begins interacting with other characters, that’s when the magic happens. The character begins to direct a bit of their own action. It’s not that the writer isn’t in control, but the character’s inner goals direct the action.

Naming characters can be tricky. My best advice is never get attached to a name because chances are it may have to change. Do your best to give your characters names that fit. Then, hope it holds. It’s an awful lot like naming your kids. There are baby books of names and if your book takes place during a certain time period there are always lists of the most popular names for each year. A favorite exercise of mine (yes, it’s sick) is to mine the obits. I mix and match names from them all the time. Works quite well, just don’t use someone’s entire name.

Once you’ve given your character attributes AND flaws (no one wants perfection), place him or her in the action and allow them to do what comes naturally. In other words, get out-of-the-way. The time for control is when you revise and edit; but when you are first writing that draft, allow it to happen organically. All of these are important questions of craft, but for me it’s about the process of polishing off the rough edges that you initially instilled.

What’s your favorite thing about developing a character? What do you least like?


  1. […] week I blogged over on Novel Clique. Check out the story of my character, Sam Dakota, and what it takes to develop […]

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