Tips for Creating Believable Characters

imagesErnest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

Writing “living people” isn’t easy; it requires skill. A living character is born not only from creativity, but also from solid research and planning. Here are a few ideas for creating memorable characters.

1. The Enneagram Types

Maybe you have heard writers discussing the enneagram personality system. Fiction writers use it as a tool to understand how characters might act and interact. The enneagram is of Greek origin, a figure with nine points or lines. The figure is used to show a model of human personality. The enneagram lists nine specific personality types along with their characteristics, in great depth. Best of all, the information is available to you online at The Enneagram Institute. Make this your first-stop character development tool.

2. The Character Chart

While I dislike character charts as a method to create characters, I find that a detailed chart is the best way for writers to keep their characters on track—acting in character and as “living people.” The Character Chart for Fiction Writers 
by Kira Lerner and Toni Walker and Katrina Stonoff’s Character Profile Worksheet are good examples, or you can create a chart of your own

3. “Proper” Names

How do writers name their characters, especially in historical novels? Often by using the official website of the U.S. Social Security Administration. The US government provides extensive lists of popular baby names for each decade from the 1800s to present. It also lists top names in the last 100 years, the top five names from 1912 to present, top names for twins, and popular names by state from 1960 forward.

4. Age-Appropriateness

Writers who don’t spend much time with children mightstruggle with young characters in their novels. Common Sense Media offers detailed information about “ages and stages” for children from birth through age seventeen. Here you will find everything from social, emotional and physical development to technological/digital savviness. The Scope and Sequence chart provides even more information about how children interact in the digital world.

Writers with school-aged children in their novels can find links to curriculum standards for each state on What does a child learn in school at each grade level? You will find it here.

One final word about developing realistic child characters. Listen to real children interact either in person or by watching CDs with age-appropriate characters. One mistake writers often make is “dumbing down” a child’s language. Listen closely and learn.


Writers, what tools do you use for creating believable characters?


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Filed under Aspiring Writers, Characters, Uncategorized, Writing craft

2 responses to “Tips for Creating Believable Characters

  1. Hi Jean –

    Thanks for the links. What a great resource for writers!
    I’ve gone on baby name sites, researched names from various countries on the Internet, and observed names on mailboxes. (Seriously!)

    Susan 🙂

  2. I love this, Jean! Why is it that I always want to bookmark your posts? 🙂 Thanks so much!

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