Writing Character and Personality

How do you write your characters? Does the story write the character or is it the reverse?

When I read, the books that stay with me are the books with characters that walk off the page. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley and Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli. I can see these people in my mind’s eye working the crime scene studying the evidence, interviewing the suspects. Yes, the story is important, but more intriguing to me is watching these people work. The authors have brought me to a point where I can believe the characters are real.

For me reading is an escape. I like to be taken away, I don’t like to be preached too, I don’t like it when an author tries to pound an agenda into my mind. And I’ve decided that reading about interesting people is more important than the other important elements of the story. Jane Rizzoli solving even a mundane murder would keep my interest. Reading about Harry Bosch interacting with his daughter is fascinating because of the way Bosch looks at the world.

So what is the secret to writing captivating characters? At writer’s conferences I’ve taken classes where a questionnaire is passed out containing questions you need to ask your main character before you even sit down to write. Most of the questions are basic background questions, age, weight, date of birth, etc.  I have a book on writing that says the key to writing good, well rounded characters is to study temperaments and personality. If your character melancholy? Outgoing? Introverted? etc. And I have found that knowing everything I can about a character makes it much easier to write the character. Other advice is to watch people. (When I read this I was reminded of my time in the police academy. Several people washed out before graduation and more failed training after graduation. Always someone would remark, not everyone is cut out for police work. Looking back, what made those people wash out and what was it in those of us who made it that made us “cut out for law enforcement?) In fact, there is a lot of advice out there on how to write believable, real characters. I suppose a writer can throw all the advice into a grab bag and pull out what works for them.

But how do you get that character to walk off the page into a reader’s heart?

My goal as a writer is to figure this out. To create characters that are real and memorable. This month’s blog line up contains interviews with real people, one who was an inspiration for one of my characters, another who is married to a real life inspiration, and then an interview with the main character of my upcoming novel, Accused. Hope you enjoy!



3 thoughts on “Writing Character and Personality”

  1. I never went in much for character bios, although perhaps that’s why my novels frequently number into the double digit drafts 😉 Please keep sharing what you learn with us–I love reading posts like these. By the way, we share a few favorites. Tess Gerritsen’s editor is the one who just offered me my very first book deal–I have loved her work forever!

  2. Thanks much! One thing I love about writing is that the learning never stops. I think that’s why we generate so many drafts.

  3. Just finished reading Accused, and I loved it! Rank you right up there with Dee Henderson and Eason, great writers, I cannot wait for your next book Abducted, don’t keep us waiting too long. Thanks!


Leave a Comment