Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Blogger: Knowing Your Characters by Marilyn Meredith

Because I've been the judge for many writing contests and was a writing instructor for Writers Digest School for many years, I've read many self-published books and manuscripts by new writers. One of the problems I've seen over and over is lifeless characters, or characters who are no more than a name.

Often it's not because the author doesn't know his or her characters, but rather the problem is not knowing how to develop the character on the page so the reader will know the character too.

First, each character should have an appropriate name: a name that fits his or her personality, a name that fits the type of book, the time period, a name that doesn't sound like, rhyme with, or start with the same letter as another character. The author needs to do everything possible to keep from confusing the reader.

To make sure not to give wrong information about someone, the author should have the facts about each character written down so that the hero doesn't suddenly change eye or hair color half way through the book.

The author should know enough about the history of the characters so that the motivation for doing things, or reacting in a certain way rings true.

With dialogue, does each character have a unique manner of speaking?

Instead of always using dialogue tags like he said, she said, using an action by the character who is speaking or a description as a dialogue tag, can be another opportunity for telling more about a character.

Some authors keep lengthy notes about each character which can be very helpful.

I've been writing about my heroine Deputy Tempe Crabtree for quite a few years. I know her better than I know any of my relatives or friends. That may sound strange, but I am totally aware of how she thinks, why she thinks it, and how she'll act in any given situation.

When writing about any point-of-view character, I try to "climb inside" him or her and see the world and what is going on through that person's eyes, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, feel what they feel, both emotionally and by touch. This works for me, perhaps it will work for you.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Invisible Path from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, Angel Lost is the latest from Oak Tree Press.

She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and her blog at


Viviane Brentanos said...

Very helpful post. I am just about to wrap up my wip and, like you, I have spent so much time in my characters head, so much so that my very sad ending is making me cry as I write it. I talk with my characters, even when I am not writing.For me, they are very real. If I don't believe in them, how can I expect my readers to relate?

Viviane Brentanos

terri.forehand said...

Great tips for making your characters three D rather than flat. Thanks for sharing.


Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great advice. My characters are real to me. I make profile sheets with all the necessary info., like hair, eyes, etc. The best way I get to know my characters is by interviewing them. What they say, or don't say, tells me a lot about them.

Anonymous said...

My characters share their hopes & dreams with me. They're a part of me. We've so much in common, but we have stark differences, as well. I'm learning things about them as the stories unfold. Writing is such a thrilling calling!

J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer & Speaker
Children's Author of Klutzy Kantor & Marta's Gargantuan Wings

Turning the Clock Back said...

As a reader (and not much of a writer I am afraid!) I am always amazed at how the character makes or breaks a book for me. If the story line is good but I dont like the character I just wont finish it!

Cheryl said...

Isn't that the truth, Diane. If you don't like a character, it's areal struggle.

Rebecca Camarena said...

Great post Marilyn, Thanks so much for the character advice.