Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Creating Your Cast of Characters
Creating our characters is not an easy task. If you are anything like me, you live and breathe your characters. They are my imaginary friends that I have all kinds of conversations with. Finding the right name is the least of my battles. Pinpointing what makes my character tick, and then expressing it so my reader will get it, that is the real challenge.
Getting these next steps done in detail is crucial to my overall story development and getting my story from my head to paper.
I have to start with a name. That's just me. Some of you may build this list in a different order, and that is ok.
Before you settle on any names, you should search for them online. Make sure they are not already well-known character names in another book, TV show, or movie. If you are dead set on a name, you may at least consider varying it. You don’t want anyone mad at you because the character’s name you plastered on your book seriously resembles someone else’s.
Revisiting my story concept:
While looking through the kitchen window of his cabin, the MC thinks he witnesses a man murder his family in the cabin next door. The MC is now faced with what to do. He has to decide if he can stop the killer from disposing of the bodies before the authorities have a chance to arrest him. The MC finds himself caught between wanting to catch the killer and deciding how much danger he is willing to put his family in to stop a murderer.
I need to name my MC and his family:
Geoffrey MacNally - Father (it took several searches till I was satisfied there was no one else with this name that I had to worry about. I started with Jeffrey McNally)
Sandie MacNally - wife
Janie MacNally - daughter
Jarod MacNally - son
I know I have a killer, so I need his name. Who does he kill? My MC thinks he kills his family. I’m going to give him a wife and a kid.
James Candorelli - Killer (It took over 20 name searches.)
Cynthia Candorelli - wife
Roger Candorelli - son
I can assume from my story concept, that I will need a sheriff or a police officer, or some sort of authority to investigate the murder. However, I have already stated this is at a resort/campground. Chances are I have set the scene to be in a remote area, which leads me to a security force on the campgrounds as the first go to authority, who can then contact the police. I need his/her name.
Gene Buford (First try. None famous, most dead.)
I have placed the setting at a mom and pop campground, not a state-run facility. If you have ever been camping, there is a shit ton of people, especially at a resort/lodge. I don’t need all those names. If in my story my MC encounters someone that I have to name, I will do it then. So for now, I am only concerned with the owners.
These are my main cast of characters. So, far. More will pop up, but this gives me some direction.
2. Physical traits
Now that I have the primary set of characters that will interact with my MC, I start to flesh out each one.
Let’s start with the old couple that owns the resort. I can picture these two old-timers, in their early to mid-sixties.
Fred is slightly overweight. Fred still does the maintenance, even though he has a nephew who runs the maintenance department and son-in-law that has a construction company that does all the remodeling on the grounds. He talks to everyone and loves to sit and read to the kids in front of the fireplace in the main lodge.
His gray hair is longer than it should be, but he won’t take the time to get it cut, even though there is a spa on site with a licensed hairdresser. He has hazel eyes, with just enough gold and green flecks to make them sparkle in the light. His hands are calloused yet he always has a gentle touch.
Edna is everyone's grandma. She is thin, which no one can understand why, because her food is the best in 5 counties. She has gray hair mixed with strands of black. She always wears it in a messy bun with tendrils surrounding her face. She wears an apron, and she always seems to have flour on her.
Her eyes are a pale blue, but instead of looking icy, they are warm and inviting. Her fingers are long and skinny, but there is strength in her hands that many women younger than her don’t have.
My main character, Geoffrey MacNally, thinks he is an amateur detective, he’s a banker. His favorite shows—all the CSIs and Forensic Files, and Miss Marple is his hero. He sees a mystery everywhere. And thinks he can solve it. Geoffrey reads suspense and mystery into ordinarily mundane conversation. Sometimes acting accordingly.
He talks to everyone, and his family is often annoyed. Not very handsome or rugged, but he isn’t ugly. Roughly 5’11 he has a lanky build. He is athletic but prefers things that exercise his brain more than his body. His hair is always cut short and parted on the side. He adores his children and loves his wife.
I would typically do this for all my characters, but for this post, I will limit it to the above 3. I think you get the idea.
These descriptions help me set the stage for the story. I just told you the old man likes to read in front of the fireplace in the lodge, so now I have an idea of what my lodge will look like. When I start to write these characters into the story, I will add more traits and such. I usually show my characters personality through their actions and reactions as well as dialogue.
Other things to look at: Hair color, hairstyle, eyes--color, shape, brooding, teeth- straight, white, crooked, missing, or rotten, height, weight, muscles, skinny, sexy, ordinary, odd…you get it.
3. Mental traits
Here are some things to look at when trying to figure out the inner workings of your character. Is your character sneaky, or conniving? Is she plotting others demise or is she a forgiving, caring person. Does she suffer from anxiety or depression? All of these will help round out your character’s personality.
Other things to consider when assigning mental traits: Cunning, genius, average intelligence, quick-thinking, slow-thinking, obnoxious, arrogant, prickish, smug, rational, irrational, non-intuitive, observant, inattentive, inquisitive, nosy, dense, selfish, caring.
You may develop this over time as you dive more into your story, developing it and the characters, but you should have an idea about the type of person your character is. I know my MC Geoffrey loves Miss Marple mysteries and any other mystery or detective show. That aspect tells me he is nosy and observant.
4. Quirks or habits or vices
Think about if your character has a disgusting habit or if he has phobias. Does he only drink sparkling water or just tap? These little things really bring your character to life. Let's take Fred Wittenhouse, my lodge owner. I told you earlier he is a bit overweight.
The reason he is slightly overweight, he always has a cookie in his hand or crumbs on the corner of his mouth. The lodge has several plates of cookies located throughout the main lobby. They are for the guests. However, Fred thinks he should sample them, all day. He tends to hover around the kitchen, pretending to help the kitchen staff, but he just wants to taste the meals.
Little things like this, endear your characters to your reader. Case in point, in my Damien Kaine Series, I have a cat, named Coach. He always trips whoever is going to the kitchen to feed him. He incessantly meows until you give him his favorite food. He often growls as he eats as if he has killed the fish himself. He sits in a chair at the table waiting for scraps of food.
Coach also gives the most disdainful condescending looks imaginable. Guess what? I have more people reference the cat and say they love him.
Other things to consider: Gum chewer, chain smoker, drinker, OCD, always twirls a ring or watch, runs hands through hair, pulls on hair, blows nose using one finger,
The background will play a part in who your character is. Especially if he is a good guy, you love to hate.
Think about these as they pertain to where your story is going and how these can help you move it forward.
My MC led a pretty normal life growing up. Nothing too spectacular ever happened to him. But, his grandmother used to read Agatha Christie to him. While she would read, he would sit and imagine he was the sleuth chasing the bad guy. He and his family traveled a lot, and that made it hard to make friends. He used the mysteries as an escape. Now you know why he loves a good mystery. (I will convey that to my readers.)
Other examples: Atheist, Catholic, Agnostic, vegan, married, divorced, single, gay, transgender, a former priest, cab driver, adopted, abused as a child, raped, former comedian, pedophile.
My only caution is to pick these carefully. If you make your character a reformed pedophile, you will have an immediate uphill battle to win over your audience.
Once you have completed these steps, you should have a clear idea of all your characters, doesn’t mean they won’t be tweaked as you go.
In part 4, I will show you how to tie your cast of characters and the basic story concept together to create an outline, a simple, easy outline, to help you write your story. This outline will help you as you complete your project. Or at least I hope so.
See you next Thursday.
I write crime fiction horror, thriller, and paranormal novels. My time in the Coast Guard and my degree in Forensic Chemistry helps me create fantastic stories. If I'm not writing, I am binge watching Netflix and probably drinking whiskey.