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Friday, May 15, 2009

Five on Friday: Creating Characters

My Five Steps to Creating Characters I Love

I write inspirational historical romances, so many of my resources reflect that.

1. I choose an image

I generally begin with a photograph. One day I entered an antique store and gasped with delight. There before me sat a huge wicker basket overflowing with cartes de visite, historic 2-1/2 x 4 inch cards with gloriously clothed Victorian men, women and children staring unsmiling at the camera. (Since it took so long to capture the image, they were instructed not to smile, because it could fade, causing the image to blur.) I purchased enough images to people around a dozen books.

When I needed additional or secondary characters and learned the store had closed its doors, I turned to the Internet. Here are sites I found, which have many great photographs to stir a historical writer's imagination:

Carte-de-Visite Victorian Photographs

Victorian and Edwardian Photographs
Roger Vaughan Personal Collection

Once I have the character's photograph, I decide upon his/her hair and eye color.

2. I select their names

I purchased a baby name book, but I soon discovered that didn't work for me since I had no idea when the names were popular. Again, I resorted to the Internet. The following sites have been helpful:

Connecticut State Library
A Listing of Some 18th and 19th Century American Nicknames

Social Security Association
Popular Baby Names
(You can input any year from 1879 on and get a list ranked by popularity.)

3. I choose the hero's profession and heroine's, too, if applicable

One resource I've consulted is Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians by Mark McCutcheon - Chapter 5: Occupations

Another is The Old West Series by Time Life Books, which has several volumes. Some focus on a single profession such as The Chroniclers, The Loggers, The Expressmen and The Townsmen. The books are out of print, but you may be able to find them at your local used bookstore or on Amazon.

A resource for those writing contemporaries is:
Careers for Your Characters: A Writer's Guide to 101 Professions from Architect to Zookeeper by Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann.

4. I decide upon each character's personality, hobbies, interests, mannerisms, quirks, way of speaking, etc.

5. I develop the character, creating backstory, goals, motivations, etc.

By time I've worked through these steps, I've gotten to know my characters. They start chatting, and the real fun begins as I capture the stories they tell me.

• • • • •

What steps do you go through when you create your characters?

Which is/are the most fun?

What are some resources you use in developing your characters?


sherrinda said...

Hi Keli! I didn't have quite the indepth procedure like you when I started my WIP. I found a character chart that I filled out for the 2 main characters. It led me through the process of developing them, along with motivation. I love the pictures you use! I bet that helps to visualize better. Thanks for sharing!

Jessica said...

Hmmm, so you're a visual writer?
:-) I've never picked a pic out first. Usually a scene plays in my head and then what I end up having to think about are the external goals and conflicts. Ugh. They are my absolute nemesis.
For one story I did pick out personality types for my characters. :-) I'm thinking of doing that again.

Did you change your blog look? Very nice.

Keli Gwyn said...


Getting to know those main characters is such fun, isn't it, no matter how we go about it? My process for fleshing mine out evolved. To this day I don't have actual images for my very first hero and heroine, but I can sure see them in my mind's eye.


Guess I am a visual writer. I never quite thought about it like that, but it fits. Maybe that's why my walls are covered with motivational words and sayings and why I keep my hero and heroine's pictures handy when I'm working on their story. I like to see everything. :)

I'm with you. Characters and scenes come first, GMC later. I remember encountering that acronym in the comments from one of my first contest judges. She kindly pointed out I might want to study GMC. I had no idea what she meant and did some quick research. I'm grateful to her for leading me to a light bulb moment.

Glad you like the new look of the blog.

Anne Barton said...

Keli, it's so cool that you use antique photos as the inspiration for your characters. I think Jessica's right--you must be a visual writer. :)

I tend to think about physical traits last. Like Sherrinda, I think about goals and conflict first. I use Maass' workbook to get me going but admit that I rarely complete all the exercises . . .

Great post, Keli!

Keli Gwyn said...


Your approach works well for you. I love all the conflict in your stories. One of your many strengths.

I can't wait to hear what you come up with for your next book. I know you'll have the GMC nailed. But, I, of course will want to know all about your characters. Can't wait to meet them.

I suppose that makes me a visual writer who's character-driven, huh? :)