Start a Story with a Character

I’d say the majority of writers like to start a story with a character, and I’m one of them. Usually a face I’ve seen somewhere takes hold of my imagination and I begin to build a character behind it. Before I list tips on how to start a story with a character, I want to emphasize two dangers when developing characters.

Too Much Backstory and Not Enough Real Story

One problem with creating characters is that a writer will get so caught up in characters charts, personality quizzes, and history that he or she neglects to actually move on to writing a story. Playing with our characters is fun, like playing with our kids. But at some point, playtime is over, and it’s time to do homework.

You probably know some writers who are always in the planning stages of writing a novel, who talk all the time about the fascinating characters they’re developing. But they never graduate to plotting a story.

When you first discover an intriguing character, by all means, have fun. Enjoy the discovery process as the character reveals different aspects of her personality and history. But keep in the back of your mind all this fun is pointless unless you actual settle down to writing a story about this great character.

Take Off the Rose-Colored Glasses

Characters are like our children. We often overlook their flaws and only see their virtues. This can be deadly in a story. If I’m reading a story in which one of the main characters is consistently praised by every other character, I begin to dislike him or her. If you have a likable character, let readers come to that realization on their own. Those kind of discoveries are a joy for readers. You don’t have to prime the reader’s pump by having the other characters constantly point out a main character’s sterling qualities. Yes, friends or family would complement each other, but keep it to a realistic minimum.

One of the things I enjoyed about writing my mystery short story, “Bovine”, was describing my fictional Marlin County, Ohio, in a negative way. The main character is a New York novelist who comes to the county to enact his perfect crime. Not being used to country life, or country people, and being entirely self-absorbed and nasty, he views the area through his snobby perception. He considers all locals “bovine.” Not only was this character a change of pace for me but it helped me see my fictional world in a new way.

Make Your Character Fit Your Genre

If your hero has weathered more trials than Job, he probably won’t work in a rom-com. If he’s a comedian, he might not fit in a gritty police procedural. Once you have a decent grasp on your main character, determine which genre will work best for him.

Road Test Your Character

If you have no idea what kind of plot to drop your character into, write a few scenes as road tests to see how she operates under different conditions.

  • A scene in which she is kind
  • A scene in which she is angry
  • A scene in which she has a victory
  • A scene in which she has a defeat
  • A scene with her best friend
  • A scene with her closest relative
  • A scene with an enemy
  • A scene with a difficult person

After you’ve seen how your character behaves, hopefully, you will start generating ideas for plot in which he can get to work.

For another view on creating characters, click here for a ten-part series on The Write Conversation.

For character prompts, click here.

How do you start a story with a character?

Portraits for NaNoWriMo

As you work on your first draft for NaNoWriMo, you might run into writer’s block or at least a snag. If that problem concerns creating a character, check out these portraits for NaNoWriMo that I’ve selected. When I’m looking for a new character, I need a face that captures my attention and makes me wonder about a personality that might fit with it. If one of these portraits inspires a character, let me know!

I like the expression on the girl’s face. She’s either watching something or daydreaming. Either way, the portrait gives you a sense of the mind behind the face.

Maybe a good heroine for a historical or fantasy story?

For more character portraits for NaNoWriMo, click here.

NaNoWriMo Prompts for Characters

If you need NaNoWriMo prompts for characters, look no further! If I need a character who has more than a walk-on part, I also need a face I can see clearly to go with this character. If your creative spark has dimmed to a cinder and you need a few more characters, check out the gallery of portraits from Pixabay. You may rekindle your inspiration!

I love the expression on this little guy’s face.
I find this face intriguing. He could fill in for Gandalf.

For more prompts for characters, click here. Where do you find inspiration for characters?

Thumbnail Sketch for a Mythical Character

A thumbnail sketch for a mythical character presents so many possibilities. Is it a sentient being from a civilization? Or an animal? Does it live in our world or a fantasy world?

If the character is an animal, my sketch is:

Loyal, protective guardian

If the character is an intelligent being, my sketch is:

No-nonsense, determined ruler or soldier

What sketch can you come up with for this mythical character?

For more fantasy prompts, click here.

Thumbnail Character Sketch

This month’s theme is probably my favorite. My site is all about characters in May. I’m a character writer. A setting can inspire me, or a plot can intrigue me, but if I don’t have characters in mind for them, those inspirations just languish in the back of my imagination. One technique I’ve learned when I want to make sure my characters act and perform differently from each other is to write a thumbnail character sketch for them. A sketch includes two or three adjectives and a noun.

I build most of my characters from faces that my imagination thinks have potential. So today’s prompt is a portrait that caught my attention because of the young man’s expression. Below is my sketch:

Observant, dry-humored college student

For more on using thumbnail sketches, click here. What thumbnail character sketch would you write for this photo?

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