I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, August 29, 2011

How To Create Characters We Love

In Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, Badger wears a driving suit and goggles. Toad of Toad Hall is handsome in spats, a tailored velvet rust-colored jacket and pearl-studded cravat. I didn't know I wanted to own him. He wasn't on my shopping list until I found him in the sales room at the top of the circular turret stairs in the Peter Rabbit store in York, England's old walled city. I couldn't leave without him. He was the only Toad there--no price tag. The store owner appraised Toad (and me) and we agreed on a price.

Now Toad is with me in America, though he's made in China and purchased in England. His worldwide travels testify to a character so loved he is instantly recognized anywhere.

How can we create story characters like that? Learn life. Pray and wait for inspiration. Study and analyze the story characters we love most. Occasionally characters are born who become so much a part of our cultural fabric, we cannot imagine life without them. Consider Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom and Topsy, Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We recognize them anywhere and welcome them into our homes--unless Tom and Huck are up to their usual high jinks.

Want some modern examples? Try Sue Grafton's alphabetized Kinsey Millhone detective series or Susan May Warren's fun Josey books. The point is, well-written characters do move right into our hearts and homes. Because their creators generate such warm-blooded, true-to-life people, we become their committed friends. In fact, the characters often become like family members. And at their strongest and best, such characters influence history. And change our world.

Think about your favorite story character. Or two. What elements and specific details lift him or her from the ordinary and forgettable to become so widely known you'd recognize them anywhere, even in other countries, and bring them home?

Got your assignment? Good. Toad is sitting here, nodding in agreement. Now, ready ... set ... go! as you write (birth) your won wonderful and unforgettable creations. The world is waiting.


  1. One of my favorite characters comes from a secular romance author's early books. The character Joe doesn't feel like anyone's hero, let alone the prince he needs to impersonate. I loved knowing Joe's backstory, his flaws and the way he was able to triumph and be a hero.

    For me, story is all about character--their goals, backstory and ability to overcome trials to become victorious in their journeys.

    I have a bear named Webster on my desk. I bought him at our local bookstore before it closed. Part of his purchase went toward books for younger children. I like to think his purchase allows other children to have their own literary adventures.

    Terrific post!!

  2. What a wonderful post, Dee. I need to study people more to develop characters who stand out. I love your examples.
    Two who stand out in my mind are Anne of Green Gables. I love her passion for life and her knack for getting into trouble. I also love her way of seeing the best in others and spreading joy where she goes.
    A recent favorite is Joy Ballard from Dining With Joy. Her way with people, her unique dilemma and her sense of humor stood out to me.
    Sorry for rambling.

  3. I love characters who are different--who are brave enough to stand up for what they believe in. In the book "These is My Words," Sarah teaches herself to read and and write and overcomes an disappointments and heartaches--she's a strong woman. Along the way, she finds love--but it's not a fairy tale kind of love.
    I also like PJ Sugar from Susie's PJ Sugar series because she's got spunk--even though she's a mess of insecurities.

  4. I've been to York! Beautiful!!

    Also, when I was kid we had this Wind in the Willows cartoon on VHS. But I was secretly terrified of it...I have no idea why. For some reason, it completely creeped me out.

    Recognizable characters...like Beth, PJ Sugar comes to mind immediately. Also, I think every character Jenny B Jones writes is memorable - with quirky traits, like Lucy's love for "Lord of the Rings" in "Save the Date."

  5. Thanks for your comments, gals. You've given me some new ideas and at least one more book to enjoy/consider. Thanks also, Lisa, for taking time when so much is happening w/ you & your mom today. Our prayers are with you.

  6. Early in my reading career, I was drawn to J.A.Jance's Joanna Brady series, as well as Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series. Both of these characters have guts. They take what's dished out and run with it. And, they win the race!
    Life is not a spectator sport. Nor is it for the faint of heart. We must grab for all the gusto, roll with the punches and stand in center ring at the end of the fight with our hand raised in Victory!
    Oops, got carried away. Great post DEE!

  7. I love characters that overcome and aren't afraid to say what they are thinking. The life lessons that I learn from the characters (fiction or non-fiction) encourages to press on!

    Thanks Dee!

  8. Great post, Dee. One character who has been with me for over 50 years is Scarlett O'hara...and of course, Rhett. And I loved Rafe in Susie's book, Taming Rafe.

  9. All of these comments are fun and appreciated. Love those principles, too. And I will pursue some great suggested books and characters--thanks!