How to write characters that breathe

We all want to breathe life, not only into our characters, but also in the places in our stories. I want people who read my stories to see everything in their mind in living color.

One technique is to interview the characters. And to scout places as if needed a TV production.

So have you ever thought about casting your characters?

Or do you write the story and work in the characters as you go?

Do you map out the characters before hand?

Or do you plan out and plot, the characters during the outline process?

I used to etch out a general list before writing and then flesh them out as I wrote.

That works fine for a short story or flash piece, but I’m finding that for a longer novel I need to do more work before writing.

I recently listened to a writer who approaches his characters as if he were casting them for a play. He goes through the process of interviewing different people in his head until he finds someone in real life, other stories, TV shows etc that fits the general profile of his character.

Then, as he builds the character he adds pictures and descriptions to his file. This tool enables him to keep the character in his mind as he writes.

He does the same thing with places. Need a boat dock, search Google Images for a picture that matches the one in your head. Same thing for town, restaurant, airport, well you get the idea. This writer builds a scrapbook that tells his story with pictures and captions before he begins to write.

With this scrapbook he has an idea of where his Protagonist and friends live and work.

What do you think?

Have you ever build a make-believe scrapbook for your characters?

Here are some links to help with character building:

Casting, Development, Tips & Templates, Bio, FYCD

Now watch this tip on how to fleshing out a real living and breathing character.

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7 thoughts on “How to write characters that breathe

  1. Nope, no scrapbook at all. But yes, there is something of that sort in my mind. I firmly believe that if you “overthink” your characters or events or places or facts, you tend to lose the spontaneity that should actually make the locations and characters breathe and live. I must sound like an aberration to you, but I do feel that too much is made of the nuances of writing and the methods to be used and the “processes” to be set up. It is simply overdone. I have always felt that if I need to do all that then I have no business writing at all. (Which is ironical, since it happens to be a ‘business’ these days and which has resulted in self-help books, training sessions, writing workshops and so on).

    Yes, it is important to be organized. Yes, it is important to be realistic and believable. Yes, it helps if you have a scrapbook of sorts to help you with character sketches, factoids and plot points and so on. I am not any kind of “seat of pants” writer either. But I hardly take notes or make elaborate plans. At best, I have a vague notion about how it is going to turn out. If I overdo it, as I usually tend to do, then I spend the rest of my life researching fascinating stuff that should have better been a book 🙂 Lord, I must sound like a nasty old curmudgeon to you, Ms Codgell, but I assure you that I rarely comment these days and this was a sort of interesting topic and I blew right in, where people like you fear to tread. Do forgive me if I write too much 😀


    1. I think your comments are wonderful. I love your insight. Sometimes I do either too much planning or too little planning. Too much and like you I’m lost in a labyrinth, too little and I forget who what or where. Sigh… I’m working on that perfect balance.haha Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, I do hope you will do so often.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not really 🙂 I get carried away at times and become flippant. (As a slightly snide remark, hehe, I tend to go “rouge” as a celeb writer compatriot of yours almost wrote as her book’s title).
        But thank you for your kindness. I appreciate it.

        I know exactly what you mean. I started off my research on the Sephardim and then got caught up in it that I forgot that it was meant for a book. I still read up on their history and it became an obsession with me. The book, meanwhile, lies languishing in some corner of my brain. Thankfully, or probably sadly, I have this quirky memory – which works brilliantly sometimes like a photographic one or which just goes senile at times that I don’t even remember the names of my friends. So usually I read up and don’t stress too much on the micro-details, but the larger picture. That is usually enough for me. Then, while writing, if I need to check up something, I usually ask people in the know or there is always the ever-unreliable wiki/google duo 🙂

        Thank you for responding, Ms Codgell. I am not always sane, so I tend to stay away from the blogworld as many of the other bloggers have found to their grief that I tend to say too much at times 🙂 Nothing much lost, I assure you. My words are often pompous, spoken from great Olympian heights, enough to make you think I am some kind of published writer and veteran haha.. No such thing, I assure you.

        Liked by 1 person

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