99 Essential Quotes on Character Creation

essentialquotesCharacter creation is an art of many hues and tones. There isn’t any one process to rule them all.

But no matter your process for creating characters…

Every one of these quotes is worth REAL consideration. And the articles behind them contain even more insight.

Plus, I’m sure the comments are going to be as insightful as the quotes.

You’re in for a treat, and your writing is in for a level-up. That’s just the way it works when you get this much insight in one spot.

Some of the quotes are from books that I believe are worth buying. The links to those are affiliate links. (But don’t worry, the books won’t cost you a penny more if you decide to buy them.)

There’s no way to rank quotes this varied and powerful and penetrating, so the quotes aren’t in any particular order. They are ALL worth reading.

Bonus: Get the PDF of this list (links included) so you can refer back to it or print it. Download it now.

Oh, and keep an eye out for tweetable brain snacks!

Writers, Editors, and Agents Speak…

1) Let’s face it, characters are the bedrock of your fiction. Plot is just a series of actions that happen in a sequence, and without someone to either perpetrate or suffer the consequences of those actions, you have no one for your reader to root for, or wish bad things on.

— Icy Sedgwick, quote from He was a man of good character

2) You cannot have an effective protagonist who simply responds to events happening around him or her. Your protagonist must act, not just react.

Rachelle Gardner, quote from Is Your MC Proactive or Reactive?

3) If, however, you want to write a character from the ground up, a character who is as real as any person living, yet wholly your own creation, then there are three aspects you need to know in depth: the physical, sociological and psychological.

— mooderino, quote from The Three Dimensions of Character

4) Even if you find the bad guy generally repulsive, you need to be able to put yourself so thoroughly into his shoes while you’re writing him that, just for those moments, you almost believe his slant yourself.

— K.M. Weiland, quote from Maybe Your Bad Guy Is RIGHT!

5) I think all writers are always collecting characters as we go along. Not just characters of course, we’re collecting EVERYTHING. Bits and pieces of story. An interesting dynamic between people. A theme. A great character back story. A cool occupation. The look of someone’s eyes. A burning ambition. Hundreds of thousands of bits of flotsam and jetsam that we stick in the back of our minds like the shelves full of buttons and ribbons and fabrics and threads and beads in a costumer’s shop.

— Alexandra Sokoloff, quote from Collecting Character

6) Usually, we combine internal and external conflicts for a richer story. That means we have to understand how our characters approach and resolve conflict.

— Jami Gold, quote from Using Conflict to Understand Our Characters

Great fiction is fueled by bad decisions and human weakness. Kristen Lamb7) Great fiction is fueled by bad decisions and human weakness.

— Kristen Lamb, quote from Great Characters–The Beating Heart of Great Fiction

8) An author should know their character intimately, they should know their history, how they would react in a situation, they should know their look and mannerisms down to the smallest facial tick. Yet all of this need not be revealed to the reader.

— Aaron Miles, quote from On Character Construction

TWEETABLE: Know more about your character than you let on. It’ll show. Click to Tweet

9) Think of your character as a jewel that has about a thousand different facets. If you keep turning them over and exploring new sides, you’ll keep discovering new information about their personality and motivations. And there’s always another way to turn things. There’s always another side to explore.

— Lauren Sapala, quote from Peel Back the Mask of Your Protagonist

10) Characterization requires self-knowledge, insight into human nature . . . it is more than impersonation.

— Leon Surmelian, quote from the book Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness (aff.)

Finish reading later: Grab the PDF version (complete with links).

11) The one common thread in all of the books that are falling apart on my shelf? Characters—flawed ones with desires and needs who spend most of the story tripping over their weaknesses in an effort to get what they want.

— Becca Puglisi, quote from Getting to the Core of Character Motivation

12) People notice what’s important to them. What’s important to your protagonist? Both in general and in that scene.

— Janice Hardy, quote from 5 Ways to Bring Your Descriptions to Life

13) Don’t just use visual details, but also include kinesthetic details, or how the character moves. Graceful, limping, stutter-step, lumbers, waddles, stomps.

—Darcy Pattison, quote from 5 Tips on Character Descriptions

14) The key to creating better plots rests in a deeper understanding of character.

— Kristen Lamb, quote from Great Characters–The Beating Heart of Great Fiction

15) Developing a character with genuine depth requires a focus on not just desire but how the character deals with frustration of her desires, as well as her vulnerabilities, her secrets, and especially her contradictions. This development needs to be forged in scenes, the better to employ your intuition rather than your intellect.

— David Corbett, quote from the book The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV (aff.)

16) You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader.

You must learn to be three people at once: writer, character, and reader. Nancy Kress— Nancy Kress, quote from the book Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (aff.)

17) If you can create a key moment in the novel where something special or intense or important passes between the protagonist and this secondary character, it will do wonders for your story. So many moving, poignant scenes in movies are ones where the two friends have a moment like this. It feels sometimes like a beat or pause in the story, being more reflective and slower paced. But it adds heart, and that’s what this is all about.

— CS Lakin, quote from Create Key Moments with Secondary Characters

TWEETABLE: A MOMENT between characters is the stuff stories are made of. Click to Tweet

18) For every important moment, your character needs to react. First viscerally, then emotionally, then physically and finally, intellectually. Often a writer will show a character reacting with deep thought about a situation, when their first natural reactions are missing.

CS Lakin, quote from 5 Key Questions to Ask as You Write Your Novel

19) Personality plays a large role in how a characters sounds. Their voice will reflect that personality and color every line of dialog and internal thought.

— Janice Hardy, quote from How to Write Characters Who Don’t Sound Like You

20) Your protagonist’s goal is what sets him apart. His story goal is what makes this story his.

— K.M. Weiland, quote from How to Tell if Your Protagonist Needs a Better Goal

21) How can you take characters out of their elements and still convey who they are and why they are the way they are? Their dialogue, their goals and their motivations move the plot and give us a glimpse. But how can we punch it up and create memorable characters without their usual surroundings? With the things they carry.

— Jessica Topper, quote from The Things They Carry: Creating a Mobile Sanctuary for your Characters

22) Give your characters a physical action do based upon their emotions. This will look different for every character, just like it looks different for every human

— Casey Herringshaw, quote from I’m So Emotional! Creating Authentic Character Emotions

A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do. Orson Scott Card23) A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.

— Orson Scott Card, quote from the book Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint: Proven advice and timeless techniques for creating compelling characters by an award-winning author (aff.)

24) Create separate dialogue files for each character. More than anything else, a character’s dialogue needs to sound consistent (unless, of course, you’re using it to indicate character changes). By creating separate files, I can read straight through just what a character says and edit, then put it back into the novel.

— Darcy Pattison, quote from 5 Ways to Keep Characters Consistent

25) It’s not enough to picture their outward appearance. Give them a background and sphere of influence.

Jordan Dane, quote from Five Key Ways to Create a Character’s Distinct Voice

26) The thing I do at the beginning is a “voice journal,” a free form doc that is the character speaking to me. I just work on it until I start to hear different from my own, or the other characters.

— James Scott Bell, comment on Five Key Ways to Create a Character’s Distinct Voice

27) Now, your character doesn’t have to know what he/she wants on page one, but it should be conclusively clear by page 30, preferably earlier. And then, every step your protagonist takes after that point should be a step toward that goal, only they are thwarted at every step by obstacles and characters who have their own set of desires.

— Nathan Bransford, quote from What Do Your Characters Want?

28) People—and characters—are made up of their past experiences.When crafting a character, one of the most important aspects we consider is her past.

—Skye Fairwin, quote from Your Character’s Very First Relationship (Hint: It Affects All the Others)

29) If you put your character in a situation that leaves them no choice but to compete for an essential, yet limited, resource against another character, the sparks are bound to fly. Whether your character experiences triumph or defeat, they will be forced to undergo a crucial inner shift, and that deeply personal change will be intertwined with the character who serves as their competition.

—Lauren Sapala, quote from Cooking Up Chemistry between Characters

TWEETABLE: Make your characters want the same thing, and then make them compete for it. Click to Tweet

30) Every cosmetic flaw is a victimless half of the real flaw it replaces.

— Rosslyn Elliott, quote from  Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws

31) All kinds of information about your MC will come up while you’re writing your first draft. Maybe she lives in a noisy apartment building. Or her mom is a gung-ho Amway seller. Or her next door neighbor is recuperating from a terrible accident. Or she feels a deep hatred for Smurfs. This stuff will spill out in your first chapters. Let it. That’s the fun part. But be aware you’ll want to cut most of the information or move it to another part of the book when you edit.

— Anne R. Allen, quote from Do’s and Don’ts for Introducing Your Protagonist

32) Good characters are why most people read, I think. However, in order to create a character people want to be BFF with, the characterization is secondary. In fiction, plot reveals character.

— Joe Bunting, quote from Characterization is Worthless

33) For every fantastical trait or ability a character has, the author has to work harder to make sure the reader still believes in them. If they push it too far, the reader will simply switch off from the character, or even the entire story.

— Aaron Miles, quote from Keeping Characters Realistic In A Fantasy Setting

34) Redeemability involves more than just actions. We’ve seen lots and lots of characters in novels and movies who do utterly horrible things and yet we love them anyway. But if characters are going to consistently do bad things and retain the reader’s sympathy: they have to be likable. They have to be brave or brilliant or hilarious or charismatic or strong or all of the above.

— Nathan Bransford, quote from Sympathetic vs. Unsympathetic Characters

35) One of the things I suggest (and by suggest I mean strongly advise) my writing circle do is to keep binders for their protagonist and supporting characters (as well as a binder for unused characters).

— Jamie Provencher, quote from Fleshing Out Characters

Be clear on every character’s agenda in a scene, and the agendas in conflict. Before you write take just a moment to jot down what each character in the scene wants, even if (as Kurt Vonnegut once said) it is only a glass of water. James Scott Bell36) Be clear on every character’s agenda in a scene, and the agendas in conflict. Before you write take just a moment to jot down what each character in the scene wants, even if (as Kurt Vonnegut once said) it is only a glass of water.

— James Scott Bell, quote from the book How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript (aff.)

37) One character might use multiple coping mechanisms to deal with different weaknesses.

— Jami Gold, quote from How to Make Characters Vulnerable to Readers

38) What characters do must grow out of who they are, and who they are is, in turn, influenced by what you make happen to them.

— Nancy Kress,  quote from the book Dynamic Characters (aff.)

39) Remember, the essence of storytelling demands that we place our main characters on a path. A quest with something at stake, with something to do, to achieve, to learn, and to change.

—Larry Brooks, quote from the book Story Engineering (aff.)

40) To have a great story and engaging characters, you would need to get under all that hair and makeup to find the not-so-beautiful person beneath who has needs and fears, and believes lies.

— CS Lakin, quote from Ordinary Characters Can Be Extraordinary

41) A lone protagonist never receives as great a reaction as one with a well-developed supporting cast. Foils serve to reinforce and highlight the hero’s good (and bad) characteristics, and also give the protagonist a chance to shine outside the primary narrative.

— Susan Spann, quote from Dr. Watson, I Presume? The Importance of Killer Sidekicks

TWEETABLE: Create a web of characterization, each character revealing or highlighting something about another character. Click to Tweet

42) Make him honest. I don’t mean never-fish-for-spare-change-in-a-pay-phone honest. I mean tell-it-like-it-is-and-own-up-to-it honest. Readers will forgive a character any number of flaws if the character is honest about who he is and what he’s doing.

— K.M. Weiland, quote from Is Honesty the Most Important Trait in a Likable Character?

43) The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold.

—  Ruth Harris, quote from 5 Ways “Difficult” Women Can Energize Your Writing and Make Your Fiction Memorable

44) Readers understand intuitively that people are not what they seem.

— Jan O’Hara, quote from All Hail Dilemmas: Why Your Characters Need to Make Tough Choices

45) It’s relatively easy to create an ambiguous character.  Any conglomeration of likable and unlikeable traits, chosen at random, will result in an ambiguous character.  Getting an audience to deeply identify with a character, on the other hand, is one of the hardest things in the world to do.

— Matt Bird, quote from Misconceptions About Character

46) You want to know what this character cares about not only to tell us who she is but to create obstacles by placing the thing she cares about most in danger as she tries to reach her goal.

— Victoria Lynn Schmidt, quote from the book 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (aff.)

TWEETABLE: Your character’s desires are invitations for obstacles. Don’t waste an opportunity. Click to Tweet

47) Desire is the crucible that forges character because it intrinsically creates conflict.

— Kristen Lamb, quote from DON’T TALK ABOUT IT—Drive the Flaw to the Surface for Great Fiction

48) When you force the character to do something in the story that is in direct conflict with a core value, or have two core values (or two sides of the same core value) clash, you ramp up your story’s suspense and give your writing an underlying, subtle, but strong tension beneath the surface.

— Kathy Steffen, quote from Core Character Values: Finding the Moral Compass

A character with one or more secrets adds mystery and intrigue to any genre. Linda S. Clare49) A character with one or more secrets adds mystery and intrigue to any genre.

— Linda S. Clare, quote from Creating Sympathetic Characters

50) Our characters might not be vulnerable to anyone else, but they usually need to allow a bit of vulnerability with the reader so the reader can form a connection with them.

— Jami Gold, quote from How to Make Characters Vulnerable to Readers

51) I’ve been thinking about that word compassion and how it’s achieved in fiction—about how, in fact, my favorite characters in literature are those mysteriously human enough to startle me into empathy. It’s that word mystery that seems to be the point: The characters that most powerfully evoke my compassion are the ones who, paradoxically, most resist being known.

— Geoff Wyss, quote from Character and Mystery

TWEETABLE: Mystery breeds relatability. We tend to assume a character is likeable behind the mystery. Click to Tweet

52) Overly tragic back stories played up front are not the way. Characters’ reactions and the way they deal with what’s happening to them in the “here and now” tells us SO MUCH more than acres of flashbacks or expositional dialogue about their traumatic childhoods.

— Lucy V Hay, quote from Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

53) Good fictional flaws should be more than superficial. They should be genuine and difficult to overcome. Good flaws tend to be more psychological than physical, although they can certainly have physical manifestations.

— Susan Bearman, quote from Fall Out of Love with Your Main Character

The key to interesting characters is attitude. mooderino54) The key to interesting characters is attitude. The MC has to be opinionated. Obviously it helps if they’re interesting opinions, but most important is that they have them. A neutral stance, waiting to see how things pan out, being reasonable, calm, patient and tolerant are all great traits to have in real life, but they don’t really translate well to the page for an MC.

—mooderino, quote from Writing Great Characters

55) Characterization requires a constant back-and-forth between the exterior events of the story and the inner life of the character.

— David Corbett, quote from The Art of Character: The Five Cornerstones of Dramatic Characterization

56) Don’t leave your mysterious characters empty, if you want them to be intriguing. You have to show something. Make the reader wonder if there is more there by creating conundrums.

— Roz Morris, quote from Writing Fiction: Bring Your Characters To Life With Roz Morris

57) For a story to have emotional range, our characters will naturally hide what they feel at some point, and when they do, the writer must be ready. Readers will be primed for an emotional response by the scene’s build up, and will be on the lookout for a character’s body language cues and tells.

— Angela Ackerman, quote from Hidden Emotions: How To Tell Readers What Characters Don’t Want To Show

58) Does your protagonist care deeply about what is happening in the story? If he or she doesn’t, change it!

— Kathy Steffen, quote from The Compelling Protagonist Part 2: Hook Your Reader with Character

59) Do not use odd spellings and dialect as your main method of pointing out different speech patterns. Words may sound different in dialect, but the words are the same.

— Beth Hill, quote from Variety in Character Voices

60) The librarian, the warrior, the free spirit… archetypes are a great jumping off point to help clarify where we want to go with a character.

— Kristan Higgins, quote from Character Pitfalls by Kristan Higgins

61) When introducing a character, you’re usually better off sticking with broad strokes. The important thing at that point is not what color hair someone has or how tall they are, but rather, what kind of person they are.

— Jason Black, quote from Why less detail makes more believable characters

62) I keep a file readily accessible with all of my characters’ vital stats and what I’ve actually mentioned in each novel, so that I can maintain consistency throughout the series. Nothing pulls a reader out of the story faster than realizing the author doesn’t actually know her own characters.

 — Jen Blood, quote from 5 Tips For Creating Characters Readers Can’t Wait to Come Back To

Character is not created in isolation or repose; it's forged through interactin with others and the world. David Corbett63) Character is not created in isolation or repose; it’s forged through interaction with others and the world.

— David Corbett, quote from the book The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV (aff.)

64) You don’t have to tell us every detail. Indeed, if you pay out background in glimpses, you can create more depth because you let the reader use intuition.

 — Roz Morris, quote from How to Identify and Remove Trivial Detail From Your Stories

TWEETABLE: Let your reader get to know your character gradually like they would a new friend. Click to Tweet

65) These emotions – fear, pain, doubt – are part of the human condition. If your hero is impervious to them, it is harder to understand them and harder to imagine ourselves as them.

— Tristan Gregory, quote from The Human Beneath the Hero

66) I trace all relationships that character might have throughout the plot.  I then list emotions that the character will experience in the relationships with those other characters.  I often refer back to this list when writing dialogue to ensure that the feelings expressed are genuine and real.

— Roger Colby, quote from Character Development: A Step by Step Method

67) Characters aren’t a fling. They aren’t a one-night stand. Getting to know them takes time and hard work. It takes excessive free writes and multiple experiments.

— Margaret Foley, quote from Characters Aren’t a Fling

68) The best way to know your character’s point of view is to know their background. You should understand why do they see the world a certain way. You should know how they perceive things the way they do.

— Skylar Spring, quote from Creating Lifelike Characters: It’s All In The Details

69) Be sure to give your characters a variety of common movements and habits that show who they are as they inhabit your fictional world.

— Beth Hill, quote from Habits, Motions, and Common Actions of Fictional Characters

70) As writers we’ve had the concept of “theme” pounded into our heads. “What’s your story about?” Every story needs a theme: a single word that tells us the core of the story–or, what it’s about. Well, it’s time for some more pounding. Every CHARACTER needs a theme, too, from the doorman to the hero.

— unknown, quote from Give Every Character a Theme

71) Conflicting personalities rub against one another, allowing writers to maximize moments when characters come together.

—Angela Ackerman, quote from Writing Fiction: Creating Friction With Clashing Personalities

72) An intuitive grasp of your character is formed by exploring scenes of profound emotional import—moments of overwhelming shame, joy, fear, pride, regret, forgiveness.

— David Corbett, quote from the book The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV (aff.)

73) While as human beings we can experience an almost infinite number of unique situations, those situations elicit a limited number of emotions. If you can pinpoint the emotion and a time when you’ve felt the same one, you can expand on it to make it fit the situation, even if you find the character you’re writing about to be disturbing, frightening, or morally reprehensible.

— Marcy Kennedy, quote from Three Steps to Creating Believable Character Emotions

TWEETABLE: Emotions are universal. Use familiar emotions to delve into unfamiliar characters or situations. Click to Tweet

74) Complexity is an indispensable ingredient of life, and so it ought to be with the characters we create in our stories.

— Stavros Halvatzis, quote from How Paradoxes Deepen Character

75) A strong character wears his backstory heavily in his eyes, his gait, or on his sagging shoulders. It is sprinkled into his conversation, and that of his friends and enemies.

— Josie Brown, quote from NaNoWriMo Tip #13: Make your readers love your hero.

76) Great heroes have flaws. If a hero is perfect, invulnerable, then he is free of challenge and also free of honor. What is effortless is not honorable; difficulty wins glory and brings the hero to life.

—quote from the book Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the Pros (Rogue Blades Presents) (aff.)

77) People who care about others are more vulnerable and more a part of the world than people who isolate themselves. And being a part of the world is usually a required state for a person to become more nuanced and take other shades—not just gray—into her soul.

— Limyaael, quote from Turning Idealistic Characters Gray

Piqued78) When characters act in ways the reader wasn’t expecting, the reader’s curiosity is immediately piqued.

— K.M. Weiland, quote from Why Character Stereotypes Are a Good Thing

79) Show the character in touch with his own power.  Love this one.   It can be power over other people, power to do what needs to be done, or power to express one’s feelings despite what others think.  We are fascinated with power–because so many of us don’t have it.

— Charlotte Rains Dixon, quote from 9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

80) It seems to me that most good protagonists are both clever and resourceful. They are intelligent and can fix things, both little and big. They can come up with inventive solutions others would never think of.

— Karen Woodward, quote from How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

81) Cleverness is necessary whether our character is a tiny hobbit in a world full of warriors or a woman seeking security in Regency England.

— Denise D. Young, quote from 5 traits of compelling characters

82) Changers are characters who alter in significant ways as a result of the events of your story. They learn something or grow into better or worse people, but by the end of the story they are not the same personalities they were in the beginning. Their change, in its various stages, is called the story’s emotional arc.

— Nancy Kress, quote from the book Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (aff.)

83) Let the reader see things about the character and/or his situation that the character himself cannot see.

— Keith Cronin, quote from Better than They Know Themselves

84) Fear humanizes us. It’s something we all share as a species and an emotion that our characters should share as well—even the bravest and baddest of them all.

— Ava Jae, quote from Character Development: Fear

85) Writers have only a few seconds to provide readers with an emotional understanding of their characters’ personalities. If this understanding is postponed for too long, it becomes difficult for readers to emotionally connect with the characters. Smart writers expedite this process by leveraging stereotypical markers to give their readers starting points for placing, defining, and understanding a character.

— Todd Stone, quote from the book Novelist’s Boot Camp: 101 Ways to Take Your Book From Boring to Bestseller (aff.)

86) The characters’ arc is about them learning their belief isn’t true.

— Jami Gold, quote from Building a Theme through Character Arcs

87) Legitimate surprise at the reactions of your characters is, for me and other writers I know, one of the great rewards of writing – on those rare days when it occurs.

— Leslie Greffenius, quote from When Your Characters Take on a Life of Their Own

TWEETABLE: When your character does something unexpected, don’t automatically delete and rewrite. Click to Tweet

88) Villains sometimes do nice things and heroes occasionally take the low road. What are your character’s most positive and negative behaviors and personality traits?

— Melissa Donovan, quote from 12 Character Writing Tips for Fiction Writers

89) If it’s easy for a reader to replace the minor character with an actor or an actress or a character from a movie or a TV show, then you haven’t made the character your own.

— Katie Ganshert, quote from From Caricature to Character

90) This may sound counterintuitive, but I’ve found it’s harder to write a multidimensional, realistic character if you base that character on a real person. Real people are complicated and unpredictable, and those complexities often don’t translate well onto the page.

— Dana Bate, quote from How to Create Characters Who Will Come Alive in Your Novel

91) Give your hero a strong simple reason that he or she has to solve the problem right now.

— Matt Bird, quote from Motivation Too Weak? Don’t Multiply It—Simplify It!

92) While it’s good to know the reasons behind an action, over-explaining why it matters and the long haul to get there often creeps in when we’re not sure what action we want our protagonist to take.

— Janice Hardy, quote from Getting the Most Out of Your Main Character

TWEETABLE: Know what action you want your character to take and over-internalization won’t be as tempting. Click to Tweet

93) To be influential, a character must somehow cement an “If-Then” scenario in our heads. For example: If I eat spinach, then I will be strong.

— Therese Walsh, quote from Influential Characters

94) If you’re switching personalities within a character, that character may not be developed enough.

Tips on keeping your character in character

95) By forcing myself to answer the BECAUSE question, I wind up going deeper into backstory, motivations and emotional depth. Why are they doing such and so? BECAUSE. . .

— Darcy Pattison, quote from The Power of BECAUSE: How I Created a Dastardly Villain

96) Give me character markers — yes. Those are great shortcuts to show us your character’s values. But don’t just give a rich character a Rolex, Dolce and Gabbanna perfume, Bulgari sunglasses, Christian Louboutin shoes, a Prada purse, a Bentley, and a Tiffany ring. Likewise, don’t just give your poor characters clunker cars.

— Tamela Hancock Murray, quote from Fancy Schmancy!

TWEETABLE: Use your character’s possessions to tell a silent story. Click to Tweet

97) Great characters need to be real, engaging, and motivating; they need to keep the reader reading. They need to touch something in the reader; so that they are remembered.

— Magdalena Ball, quote from Character Mapping for Juicy Characters

98) What all of these characters have in common is the depth of their backstories. They arrive at the beginning of their stories with baggage already in tow.

— K. M. Weiland, quote from Improve Your Character Instantly: Just Add a Ghost

99) A good place to start is by figuring out what your character wants.

— Charlotte Rains Dixon, quote from Tips On Writing: Prepping for the Novel, Part Three–Character

Time to Digest It All.

That’s a lot of insight.

Dig in and explore it. I promise your writing will be better for it.


Some of the advice above might seem contradictory. Please, point out what confuses you so I can clear things up, either in a reply or in a future post.

And if you see a seeming contradiction and you understand it, share YOUR insight.

Oh, and don’t let the desire to “get it right” make you even pause in getting that first draft written.

NOW GO. Write some gonna-get-a-cult-following-within-a-week fascinating characters.

(But you can grab the PDF version first if you like.)

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About MJ Bush

Developmental Editor.
Founder of Writingeekery with 10,000 monthly readers.
I help writers like you master the craft.


  1. Thanks for this collection of valuable tips!

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  2. This is FANTASTIC! I love this approach of collecting quotes on a common topic. So many of these are wonderfully insightful. It’s stunning to see them all together. :)

    And thanks for including several quotes of mine! I’m honored to be included in such greatness. :)

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  3. What a great resource! Thanks so much for including me.

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  4. These are absolutely fantastic and I’m so jazzed to be included. But I have one correction: #43 –the quote about “difficult” women was written by my blog partner, NYT million-seller Ruth Harris.

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    • Oops, thank you for correcting that! I was wondering what I messed up. In something this big, there’s always something. And I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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      • Thanks, M.J. ! You’re so right that it’s always something. I almost always have to correct something after my blog goes up. I’ll link to this from tomorrow’s post! I’m talking about what to avoid in your main character, so this fits perfectly

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  5. Oh, am I LOVIN’ this! :) Thanks, M.J.! :)

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  6. What a marvelous list, thanks for the trouble to compile it. Wow, you read all that stuff!

    Quite different for me personally, but there were several quotes, usually about how the author should react and feel about the characters, that I found meaningful. I have always been very partisan and devoted to my characters- on a polygraph, I’ve met them, just as Thucydides no doubt admired Pericles. So those quotes about getting to know them, caring about what happens to them, spot-on.

    Those about- gasp- changing the story? Not so much!

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  7. Excellent, I’ll be referring back to this. 😀

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  8. Absolutely LOVE this =D Thank you MJ.

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  9. Great post! Thanks for putting it together, and for sharing Dana’s post.

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  10. As a teen novelist, this really helped me further develop the stories I create. Thank you very much for this wonderful resource.

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  11. Dylan Hoelz says:

    Wow, I just want to take a moment and thank you for everything you’ve provided here with your articles. I recently signed up for your newsletter and could not be happier. I’m reading up on your older articles and trying to take it all in, yet keep it organized and meaningful in my head. I’m still a noob when it comes to writing, but I would consider myself a geek, and these articles have really given me some great ideas. Thank you so much!

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  12. I love ’em. These would help me create a three-dimensional character.

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  13. Boy, I love this, but it’s going to take me quite a while to get through all of it. Side note, as a trained method actor and mostly self-learned writer, I’ve taken more out of my learning as a method actor than anywhere else, I think. I would love to see a similar post, but with quotes from actors. Actors, good ones, are wonderful gateways to character development, because there job is to focus on that sole purpose. For example, this is one of my favorite actor quotes on characterization by William Powell, “I have never gone into a picture without first studying my characterization from all angles. I make a study of the fellow’s life and try to learn everything about him, including the conditions under which he came into this world, his parentage, his environment, his social status, and the things in which he is interested. Then I attempt to get his mental attitude as much as possible.”

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  14. Excellent!! Thank you for sharing these!

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