What Makes us Human: Basic Character Building

Every good story has good characters. Like real characters they must reflex the complexity of real humans. It’s pretty tricky trying to make something that moves and acts human, but the points below outline what I do with mine. Hopefully they will help you get close to developing a character that feels genuine.

Point one:
A fictional character is made up of four layers
1.What you see on the outside. I.e. Appearance, sex, social economic level, health, profession… etc
2.Physical mannerisms I.e. Nervous habits, ticks, stance, etc…
3. Character traits. I.e. Outgoing, extroverted, sensitive, thick-skinned, mischievous…
4.Core values and inner truths Foe example: An unshakable belief in human decency, mistrust of authority, sees value in beauty but nothing else…

Point two:
In fiction we tend to start with the top layer and dig down. We generally know what our character looks like on the outside but usually know little about what goes on beneath the surface.

The best method for discovering this, I’ve found, is the interview method. Sit your character down and ask him some questions. Your ultimate goal is to dig deep enough to uncover a core value/inner truth. Then do it again.

Some questions you might ask are:
What is your deepest fear?
How would someone with this fear act?
What would you do if you won a million dollars?
Is stealing ever justified?
What do you have in your pockets?
Who was your first crush?

The point is to fill in as many details on every character level that you can.

Point three:
The crowning touch of a truly human character is inconsistency. Consider a bank robber that donates to charity, or a prostitute who insists upon a formal wedding. There is something so appealing and intriguing about contradiction!

Hope that helps get the juices flowing!


About cjgosling

I paint, I sing, I walk in the rain. I'm clumsy and I love the smell of campfire. My head is full of imaginary things and the only thing I ever really want to do in life is write. My first book "Shadowlands: The Guardian" was released in Feb. 2011. The sequel is coming in 2012! View all posts by cjgosling

One response to “What Makes us Human: Basic Character Building

  • aarongraham

    Great advice! Another follow up point is the careful revelation of these deeper levels of a character. This is where I tend to really have fun as a writer. The surface level is usually revealed by the writer’s narrative voice when the character is first introduced, but the deeper levels need a lot of careful consideration as to the how and when to bring out some of these other traits.

    I would be curious to know of effective ways you (or anyone else) have used to creatively show some of these deeper levels.

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