Writing Resources – Creating Characters in Nairobi

I love writing Fiction, and as a result, I’m always on the prowl for new tricks to use to make my writing better.  This week, I’ll share some of those articles that are useful, entertaining, mind boggling and a bit intimidating.  This Writer in Nairobi wishes there were more chances to attend Creative Writing Seminars, but alas, the best I can get is reading articles online and buying huge creative writing books. I wrote this blog post almost six years ago.  You can now find Creative Writing Seminars in places like these.  Since improving your writing means never stop learning, I hope these links help you too.

We’ll start with Characters:

Why do you want to improve your Characters?

When you look back at all the novels  you’ve read, movies and television shows you’ve watched.  The characters in these movies, shows and novels are what you remember most.  Harry Potter comes to mind every time for me, or Voldemort when it comes to Villains for both books and movies.  Yes, I might have spent a few years following that series like a maniac.  What we’ll agree here is that the writer, J.K. Rowling, spent a lot of time developing her characters as people.  Harry Potter’s past, his present, his future, his likes, dislikes, his family, his weaknesses, his strengths, you get my point.  This allowed you to get into his world and better understand him.  As a writer, you want to make  your character memorable to your reader, and this can be quite a challenge.

What goes into Character Development?

A. The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

In this article, Tom Pawlik explores nine different things you need to think about when creating your character.  These Ingredients as he calls them are:

1. Communication Style

2. History

3. Appearance

4. Relationships

5. Ambition

6. Character Defect

7. Thoughts

8. Everyman-ness

9. Restrictions

I especially find no. 3 and no. 8 interesting because I’ve written characters before who were too pretty and too elite for anyone to understand.  Most people want to read a story about a man or woman they can relate to.  It’s so easy to write about rich people living the fabulous life, or women falling for very gorgeous men.  The truth is in real life we don’t fall in love with uber-gorgeous men who work out four hours a day.  We fall in love with that guy in your neighborhood who used to trip you and tug your hair, and whose laugh you hated because it made you cry. Right? No, that didn’t happen to you? Oh well…guess that was just someone I know.

B. Creating a Character Bio Sheet

Creating a Character Bio Sheet forces you to define who your characters are, instead of skimming the top.  This article lists categories that help you keep track of your Character’s traits.  Examples of the categories you’d need to write down are:

  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities

There are more on the list, so check out the article.  By the time you get to the end, or choose the categories that matter to your story, you’ll have a comprehensive view of who your character is, where they come from, what they do, what their role is in the story.  This activity helps you get to know who your characters are as you would a friend.

Here are other links to more Character Sheets that will help you learn more about your character.

1. Character Questionnaires 

2. Character Worksheets/Sketches

C. Go Beyond the Norm: How to Make Ordinary Characters Compelling

The moment you think you know all about your character, understand that you don’t, because in real life, we never really know another individual, even your own family.  I think this is the hardest thing to capture when you’re writing a story.

Have you ever started a story, following your character sheet, but you end up having a completely different character in your story?  The character takes on a life of their own.

This can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing, and that’s when your editor keeps saying your character is inconsistent in every chapter.  This happens when you don’t know what your character’s gut instinct is.  Are they the type to help an old lady cross the street, or one to just run on ahead not caring if she crosses or not.  Does your character think of himself/herself first, or does she care first about others?  It is good to know the answers to these questions because you don’t want your character being a selfish bastard at the first chapter, and suddenly becoming a helpful angel in the second chapter without some sort of catalyst.  It will give your readers whiplash.

Pay Attention to Your Own Experiences and Observation

The best characters are the ones we’ve met.  Make your characters interesting by adding the little quirks you notice in the people around you.  E.g.

1. Your Aunt’s strange habit of  adding garlic to the tea because she thinks it will keep you healthy.  Seriously.

2. That guy in the bus who keeps talking really loudly on  his new phone so that you can see it.

3. The Tout who always remembers you at the Bus stop and therefore will never forget your stop.

4. Mama Mboga who always keeps you the freshest fruits.

Those people in your life who add color to it, add color to your story.

So, I hope I’ve helped a little in your quest to create characters and Happy Writing to you.

Here’s a glimpse at Stories set in Nairobi, with Great Characters.

The Perfect Love Story


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