• Rowan Mackey

Crafting Characters - How to make your characters jump off the page

The character you use in your story is effectively your very own customised delivery specialist!

They will share everything you wish to explore: the successes and failures, the physical and emotional responses, the impact on relationships and the environment.


I would really like you to think about your character as you do if you had a really good look at your own collection of family and friends.

There are some with whom you have shared a great deal of life’s big-ticket experiences and others who may simply make the workplace or regular events more palatable! You develop an instinct as to whom you can trust with what information you are willing to share.


The characters in your writing can mimic these parameters.

Some you know very well, and can interpret the subtlest of nuances in their responses as a particular emotion, others you only spend time within a particular context. Get to KNOW your characters in detail; you will then allocate them roles that are appropriate to the proximity of your relationship, therefore allowing them to be believable in their responses. To do this, write about them but NOT in the context of the story you have in mind. List their physical attributes, list their emotional responses to the slightest of provocations, and describe their perfect day from the moment they get up to the moment their day finishes! Remember that people are complicated, so allow the detail to be complicated.

Next, walk in your character's shoes.

There is always a pretext for behaviour and responses. Because you know your character well, you will understand if they are flawed and have responded in a certain way. This empathy will allow you to describe their emotional responses.


Give your character the gift of an idiosyncrasy.

Jack Reacher is over six-foot-tall, so we know he is capable of using his physicality to assume control. Oliver is dressed in rags, so we know he is vulnerable simply because of his lack of resources. Hermione Granger is often carrying a book, so we know she is passionate about learning. Team these with emotional idiosyncrasies and you have what could be a real person!


With the children I work with, I offer them a chance to give the characters they illustrate a physical trait that is just theirs–it may be a large pink bow, or a zigzag hairdo. This allows the reader to discern between characters even when the drawings are not so skilled!


Finally, Set up your characters for success.

They need a motivation to succeed as well as the tools at their fingertips. Reacher is useless if he can’t swing his trunk-like arms–so constricting him is useful for a while to build tension, but we have to let him go. Oliver can’t suddenly drive a car! Hermoine needs access to the library. Set up your characters in advance with the tools they need. A key doesn’t just appear, it needs to be sitting on a shelf; a hero can’t answer ‘the call’ if they are not already predisposed to act based on their high self-efficacy; if they fear the dark, they will be the horrible one if the setting is plunged into darkness.


Getting your characters to jump off the page is really getting your characters to jump into the reader’s laps!

The closer the reader and your character, the more believable and credible, the more there is to be gained from understanding their journey.

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