Building a fictional character

I’m hosting over at American Historical Novels this week – an opportunity to meet new readers and share a few aspects of my writing. An article I’m posting over there today is about building a character.

What does it take to create a character in a novel?With fictional characters, I feel it’s important to flesh them out to some extent in advance. For Grace Hansen, one of two main characters in Time and Regret, I borrowed a template from Elizabeth George, a well-known mystery writer. Below are some of the details:

Name: Grace Hansen Age: 42 Height: 5’ 6

Weight/Build: put on weight during marriage; because of divorce is back to her pre-marriage weight, relatively slim, a bit curvy in hips and breasts

Color hair/eyes: brunette, brown eyes

Physical peculiarities: blushes easily

Family: Grace is an only child; born in New York City; her mother Lily fell apart when her husband died in a plane crash so Grace was raised by her grandparents; Lily now suffers from Alzheimer’s; father David died when Grace was 5; grandmother, Cynthia Devlin (nee Gibson), whom Grace calls Grandmama; the two were often at odds when Grace was growing up; Cynthia is British born and grew up poor; she’s proper, a social climber, and likes the things money can buy; grandfather, Martin Devlin, Grace calls him Grandpa, profoundly affected by WWI, built a successful gallery, Grace has a very close relationship with him

Sexuality: fairly routine in her sex life with her husband Jim; only one other sexual relationship before marriage; now divorced, she’s ready to be more adventurous

Significant event that molded her character: loss of her parents and subsequent upbringing by her grandparents

Ambition: she has taken the safe path all her life, married relatively young, has two children, a well paying job, and what she thought was a good marriage until the night her husband asked for a divorce while out at their favourite restaurant; she has been self-sufficient and successful; but is now restless and unfulfilled, alone and lonely; feels the need to reinvent herself

Core need: to be loved for who she is

Wants: solve the mystery she discovered in her grandfather’s papers; learn how to live without Jim, her ex

When under stress: retreats into reserve and aloofness when under emotional stress

Gestures when talking: uses her hands and body a lot when talking; ex-husband used to tease that she must have Italian blood

Strongest character trait: dependability; puts needs of others ahead of her own

Weakest character trait: allows others to dominate, doesn’t assert herself

Philosophy: strength comes from adversity, nurture family and friends, enjoy small pleasures of life, be self-sufficient

What others notice first about her: warm, open demeanour; shapely legs

Educational background: despite her grandfather’s preference to have her work at the gallery he owned, she studied business at university and works for an insurance company; she’s been around art all her life

I create character sketches like this for all my significant characters and look at them frequently. I consider them a skeleton for what will ultimately become a flesh-an-blood character. Not surprisingly, the details evolve as I build the novel, but they’re always there to provide a reference for me as the chapters unfold.

You can find American Historical Novels either on Facebook or Goodreads


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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Meet M.K.Tod

Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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