What do characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Professor Henry Higgins and Clark Kent have in common? They are characters in fictionalised tales which live on in the minds of audiences (both readers of works of fiction and movie-goers) long after many other features of the story are forgotten. Use the suggestions made below to create characters which will be remembered in the same way.

Realistic and Believable Characters

The trick is to give them individual personalities with quirks, mannerisms and a motivation that readers can clearly understand. If your story is set in a make-believe world, you can create exotic characters that are far-fetched, extreme and fantastical, yet believable. Readers will believe in a talking pot if the pot gets grumpy when the fire is too hot, is vain about how the cook always reaches for it first and has a crush on the shapely saucepan.

Bringing a Character to Life

Here, try using a ‘police photo-fit’ approach. First, prepare a list that contains basic information about each character. Then, weave this information into the text. One way of doing this is to use another character’s point of view to describe a character. For example, ‘Gina smiled. Jason seemed so awkward – at 14, his clothes were too big for his tall frame; his large hands flapped about and even his smile was lop-sided. He reminded her of a scarecrow.’

Choosing Names for Your Characters

If you don’t believe how important it is to choose your characters’ names properly, consider this: what is the image that comes to mind when your character is called ‘Henry Winfield III’? Now, what about ‘Bert’? Bert can be an easy-going, reliable working class man. Henry Winfield III is serious, lacks a sense of humour and probably goes fox hunting in the country. Kylie is a young student and Miranda is a housewife living in the suburbs. Can you see how a name can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background?

Also, if you cannot avoid having two characters with similar sounding names, like Doug and Dave, give one of them a nickname. This will make sure that your readers are not confused by the characters in your book.


Identifying what motivates your characters will help you decide how they are going to act and behave. For instance, a man who steals because he’s greedy will not get the support of your readers. However, a man who steals because he’s desperate to feed his starving family might gain your readers’ sympathy.

Here is a basic template of some of the elements that go into helping you create unforgettable characters:

  • General information – this will include full name, nickname, race, occupation and social class.
  • Physical appearance – this will include age, hair colour, eyes and so on.
  • Favourites – this will include the character’s favourite music, books, expressions and hobbies.
  • Personality – describe the character’s personality. Is he cautious? Is he temperamental? Background – what is the character’s background?
  • Relationships – describe the character’s relationship with his family and friends.
  • Traits – describe the character’s traits. For instance, is he an optimist or pessimist?
  • Problems – what problems does this character face?

The suggestions made above are a start. Use them as a basis to fully develop the characters in your novel. In so doing, you’ll create characters that will become icons for years to come.


  • Kress, Nancy. Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated. Writers Digest Books; First Edition edition (July 15, 1998)
  • WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/bring-to-life-the-characters-in-your-novel-a382818

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