Tag Archives: better characters

Build your fictional characters

Deborah Fredericks has a great blog that involves a lot of research into dragons. There are dragon legends all over the world, and Deby knows her stuff. I encourage everyone to visit her blog and consider following her. She’s here today to tell us how she fleshes out her point of view characters. Take it away, Deby:

Deflecting Stereotypes

Deby Fredericks

Among the many sins a writer can commit, the one I dread the most is flat, predictable characters. Characters who are defined by some sort of title (“the guard”) or stereotypical role (“grouchy old wizard”). Characters who aren’t… creative.

So I’ve developed a process to help me look beyond such obvious tropes. Most new novels, I work up at least three concepts for each main character, which include a background, motivation and the skills or strengths they will bring to the tale.

The first concept will almost certainly be a stereotype, with motivations a child could see through: a poor woman who works a dead-end job. The second concept will be more interesting, but still predictable: a poor woman in a dead-end job who wants to marry a wealthy customer and leave drudgery behind.

The third concept and any others that follow will become more and more interesting, but less and less predictable. The goal is to arrive at something fresh and original, with enough familiar tropes that readers feel comfortable.

Often I will end up with something like this: “The main character is a bar maid in a dive. She knows her life could be better than this, so she hooks up with the vampire who promises wealth and fame in return for a pint or two of blood. Based on her background, she has a tough attitude, some mercantile skills, plus she carries a stiletto and isn’t afraid to use it.”

I do this for any character that might be a point of view, and for the major antagonists. I also do this for plot developments when I’m not sure what should happen next, and sometimes for whole societies. After all, “secret ninja village” can be just as much a stereotype as “hard-boiled detective.”

Often, the final character will have elements from several of the concepts, but not use any of them exactly. But I try at every phase to generate fresh events or character motives that will surprise my readers and keep them coming back for more.

Deby Fredericks is a small press author with five fantasy novels in print. She writes for kids as Lucy D. Ford. Her web site is www.debyfredericks.com, and her blog is wyrmflight.wordpress.org.


This is a blog swap today, and I’m appearing at Deby’s blog. I’m talking about a cockatrice named Gallicus in hopes of fitting in with her dragon theme. You might learn a secret about me if you read it.



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