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Writing Tips #80: Quick & Dirty Characterization Tips & “Cheats”

Tips by Springhole.net

A GREAT, great resource for characters, villains, fantasy, etc.
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I frequently have to to create characters on the fly, so I’ve picked up a few shortcuts to make it easier. Please note that none of these tips will necessarily ensure a good character; they will simply help you hammer out a character quickly.

  • For the love of all things squamous and fluffy, try to ensure that each character has xir own “voice” by giving your characters different patterns of speech and slightly different vocabularies. If you don’t do this and you’re trying to create a lot of characters in a hurry, you’ll most likely end up with a bunch of people who all sound exactly the same. It doesn’t take long and it’s not difficult; just pick some mannerisms and quirks and assign them to your characters - EG, “Anna rarely uses words longer than two syllables unless necessary and often exclaims ‘Shoot!’ when upset; Justin pads his speech with needlessly long words, but when angry or tired resorts to expressions that reflect his country upbringing like ‘Doggonit!’”


  • One shortcut I’ve occasionally taken for creating to create different “voices” was to borrow the speaking styles of multiple characters and blend them together. For example, the speech of one character I had was heavily influenced by Daniel Jackson and Jack O’Neill from Stargate SG-1, which I was watching at the time. Sure, it was cheap, but it did the job. (Whatever you do, don’t gank entire lines from other materials, or worse, entire conversations. The idea is to imitate the style, not the substance.)


  • Sometimes I take the general (not exact) personality of a character from a different work (never from the one I’m writing/roleplaying) or a real person and put it into another body. If the character isn’t used very much and doesn’t require many personal details revealed, people aren’t likely to notice. If the character does end up getting used a lot and requires personal details to be revealed, I try to steer xir toward becoming significantly different from the source character. Remember - this isn’t just about scraping the frosting off a cookie and putting on your own design; it’s about taking a cookie recipe and substituting coconut for chocolate and dried cherries for walnuts. (If you are creating a fan character do use common sense and try to pick a personality that fits well into the work. For example, someone with the personality and mannerisms of Karkat Vantas or Usagi Tsukino would be ill-suited as a fan character for any Hayao Miyazaki film.)


  • Keep coming up with details whenever you have the opportunity to think about it. For example, while an RP buddy is writing out the next post, I’m coming up with important and notable details about the character’s life. Make sure you prioritize, though - your character’s job and/or hobbies are most likely more important than xir favorite fruit, which in turn is most likely more important than xir favorite brand of deodorant.


  • Let the information flow in and roll with it. If you think of your character and get impressions of the color green, make that a color xe likes. See an object with a chicken on it? Make your character fond of chickens. (A caveat - if the first ideas that come to mind are based in stereotypes, you should probably discard them.
  • You can also try to induce information about your character based on xir name. For example, if we have a character named “Daisy McNally,” it’s reasonable to assign her Scottish ancestry on her father’s side. Her first name could be an indication that one or more of her parents is fond of flowers, or nature in general, or bright and sunny things.

  • For the character’s actual appearance, think of someone you’ve seen before. It can be another character or a person in real life - just choose someone who isn’t from the work you’re creating a character for. Alter your character’s appearance based on xir job or hobbies - eg, pirate!Daniel Radcliffe will probably have scars, long hair, tanned skin, and maybe even a beard. (However, if you actually describe your character as “Daniel Radcliffe as a pirate,” you deserve to be throttled.)
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