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A novel is more than just a story set in a town with characters engaged in dialogue – it is a life portrait of the main character and the world in which they live.

If the main character and its supporting character are presented in a realistic fashion, the story will take on a dimension of its own. As we live inside the head of the main character, discovering their hopes, struggles and what motivates their actions, we find that we can identify with aspects of their lives.

In my first novel, The Rich American, Amelia DeLuca’s Italian immigrant background helped shape her view of herself and the world in which she lived. This heritage is the driving force for her decision-making processes and eventually that which motivates her to re-invent herself.

There are several ways to build characters. Sometimes the plot drives the type of characters you will create. For example, suppose your story centers on a Harvard law student – the characters surrounding the Harvard environment will be professors and students of a certain intellectual focus. They most likely will be introspective and possibly serious. To add to the plot your main character could be different from the norm, thus you have your main character’s conflict.

Character sketches are a good way to develop a main character’s persona. Below is brief snapshot of a character sketch that I created for my new novel, Treasures in Clay Vessels.

Nellie Parker – forty nine years old, an eccentric recluse who owns an antiques shop in Old Port, Maine. She has a slight build, five feet tall, wears Victorian style clothing, has long brown hair with graying tips that she wears in a long braid down to her waist. She wears lots of foundation makeup to cover her scarred face. She lives in a world of biblical artifacts magazines and antiques where she creates adventures in her imagination. Fears socializing accept what is necessary for business.

Henry J. Lewiston. Fifty-seven years old, a small rotund build with salt and pepper hair and sparkling green eyes. All the women in town love him. He is not flirty or extremely attractive, he just knows how to listen and care about people. He is a retired Biblical Archeologist and loves fishing. He seems to like Nellie to spite her deformity and demeanor.

Once you have your character sketches then you can refer to them to help your character take on flesh and bones. It will also keep you centered on their persona. A character will not usually deviate from their true self unless it adds something to the plot.

For another example, Nellie always has chamomile tea and blueberry scones for breakfast. It would be out of character for her to change to coffee and bagels unless someone insisted she try it and out of a need to be accepted she submits to it.

This switch in character can drive an interesting twist to your main plot. You can further develop the plot by having Nellie break out in hives the size of quarters after having changed her routine.

TO RECAP:

Character sketches;

1. Helps develop realistic characters

2. They keep the character true to their nature

3. They can create interesting twists in the plot and purpose

of the story.

The process of character sketching can be overwhelming for the beginner. As a suggestion to help you create larger than life characters, I suggest the following;

1. Keep a notebook of human traits that you find interesting.

2. In your notebook, jot down any style of dress, or walk

or mannerism that you’ve observed that you feel would add to a

character you’ve created for a novel.

3. Jot down things you notice about someone’s ethnic heritage that you find fascinating.

4. Keep the notebook in an accessible place so you can refer to it often.

One word of caution: Never stereotype or copy a person’s exact traits unless you have their permission to do so. When the novel is completed, give them the chance to read it before it goes to print.

HAPPY CHARACTER CREATING!

Angela T. Pisaturo is an accomplished author with two novels, two children’s books and several articles to her credit. She is also a regular columnist for East Lake Blister online newspaper, a devotional column for pet lovers. She offers free in-depth critiques for writers from her website at http://fictionfocus.net

NO PART OF THIS ARTICLE MAY BE REPRODUCED. ©2008

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