An Aspiring Writer's Blog Site

Character Templates

My friend Whitney Carter is struggling a little with one of her male characters. She had always thought he looked like Kevin Sorbo, but then her character told her he didn’t look like that. Oops.

It made me think a little. I wonder how my writer friends out there come up with their characters.

For me, it’s a mix. For instance, in Bronze Raiders, my main character, Hektor, was based upon Barack Obama. I didn’t think he looked like Barack Obama, just that he acted like him—smiled a lot, positive, idealistic, charismatic. To this day, I have no idea what he looked like. I never described him in my story (no one even seemed to notice, which I found interesting).

For Hektor’s love interest, I chose Kiera Knightly. Always thought she was cute. I’ve also used Charlton Heston, and Gina Carano as templates for characters in my story. Sometimes I use people I know—like an old cowboy friend I used to know. Sometimes I use a historical character—Robert E. Lee or Nathan Bedford Forrest, for example.

Many times, though, I don’t have a person in mind. They just are. Many times I’ll start with an archetype and work off it. Sometimes I mix characters I know or imagine. I learn about them as I write my rough draft and more of their personalities come out in subsequent drafts. It’s always kind of fun (and unexpected).

So, how do you guys do it? What do you base your characters on? Real people? People you know? Celebrities? Archetypes?


14 responses

  1. For the most part, they are pulled out of my imagination, which is very active. The odd one may be based on a person I have seen – famous or otherwise, but they usually pop up as an individual person in my mind’s eye.

    September 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    • Yeah. Same with me. Sometimes I’ll get an idea for a character and then try to figure out who I know that they act like or who they look like, but I’d say about 60% of the time, I never really know.

      September 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      • That’s cool! 🙂

        September 21, 2012 at 12:25 pm

  2. It’s so funny you mention Kiera Knightly for Kyra because my mental image of her was kinda cute, and then the picture solidified it.

    BTW–It’s Kevin Sorbo, lol

    September 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    • Oh! Sorbo! Well, I butchered that, didn’t I? Fixed. I guess you can tell I never was a fan. Yeah, Kiera’s cute. 🙂

      September 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      • Someone has a crush! 😛

        September 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      • Indeed. Geez, what guy doesn’t?

        September 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm

  3. geminye

    I use the same technique you do. I almost always have an actor or famous person in mind when I write. Not that I base the characters completely off of that person. I just use them as a reference.

    And, I think it is important to highlight what you said about Hektor. I think may beginning writers go overboard trying to describe their characters (or anything else for that matter) because they feel the reader has to see them exactly as they do. This is certainly not true. The reader will come up with their own image from just a few simple indicators of the character. This is an important skill and understanding to master.

    The reader will do a great job of filling in the details fr us. We don’t need a long list of the characters physical attributes, clumsily accompanied by random quirks to make the character come to life.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

    • Yeah, its funny. I think I mention that he shaved once and a couple of times I said what he was wearing, but that’s it. No one dinged me on what he looked like. It was a good lesson to learn. I once read that a reader will make the main character look like themselves if you don’t describe them. Don’t know if that’s true or not . . .

      September 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

      • geminye

        I really think it is true to some extent. At the very least, I think we project some part of ourselves onto the main character.

        September 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

  4. I guess I come at characters for the other side. When I write fantasy, I start with a detailed view of the story and then figure out what kind of characters I’ll need to tell that story. I choose key character traits (sneaky, brave, loyal), one or two noteworthy physical characteristics (long blonde hair, big nose, a limp), a particular mannerism (scratching that big nose, twisting that long blonde hair, or – well – limping), and a general body type (tall and lean, short and fat, well-muscled, or – um – a little short in one leg) and let it go at that. The rest develops as the writing proceeds. As you say, Dan, there is no need to go into detail with a character’s description. I use Dickens’ old trick of having a character show their little mannerism whenever they make an entrance. This helps the reader remember who’s who much better than just names. Unusually, it seems, I never base a character on a real person. I suppose my characters are more archetypal.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    • Yeah. I like this approach. Go with an archetype and put some type of spin on it. This works for me too. The intro of a character really is key, you’re right. Sometimes I get it right other times, I fall on my face. Good goal to have, though. I agree, the actions and attitudes of a character will really stand out in a person’s mind more than their name or physical description. Thanks for swinging by, Thomas. Good thoughts all the way around, as usual.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:10 am

  5. Similar to Thomas, I outline the story and see what the characters have to be. I didn’t always do this. Sometimes a cool scene would hit me and I’d have to write that. In both instances however, I don’t actually know my characters until they show me on the page. In my novel right now, I invented two characters who are, for all intents and purposes, main characters. I know the other main characters from a previous draft but these I didn’t. I wrote an entire chapter just to figure out who they were and what they were like. In my head this young woman was meek and cowed, sickly and sad. When i wrote her however, she came alive with this quiet strength, a spirit that said “You won’t take me quietly into this good night!” It changed who she was in my head. I never know what they look like exactly, as descriptions mean little to me. I know she has reddish-brown hair and gray eyes and is about 5′ tall… but that’s all. Her spirit burst onto the page like white-hot fire.

    So they tell me who they are, but only after I give them a voice.

    October 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    • That’s good Mike. I’ve had some characters act differently than I thought they would when I started writing. Funny that. Sounds like we all have similar ways of finding out about our characters. Thanks for swinging by!

      October 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

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