"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, May 9, 2011

Character Development Part Two: Which Attributes Matter?

In Character Development Part One, (click here), we explored different techniques some authors use when creating their characters and which attributes on a character sketch don’t necessarily matter and which ones do.  In Part Two, we’ll be exploring these attributes and why they matter.


What’s in a name?  True, when it comes to Romeo & Juliet, Romeo's last name was unimportant to Juliet in her quest for true love; however, when it comes to creating your characters, names play a very important role.  Why?  Because long before a reader has a mental image of a character or even has a chance to make a judgment about their personality they have already formed an impression of them based on their name. Let’s explore: 

Let’s imagine you’re reading a suspense novel and a character named Hacksaw is introduced.  Right away, without getting to know the character I bet you’ve envisioned a dark shady figure out to do evil and perhaps even has a hacksaw for a hand.  You are certain Hacksaw is the villain.  Another character named Violet is introduced and right away you have a mental image of a beautiful soft spoken woman with perhaps lavender eyes and without a doubt in your mind, Violet is the protagonist.  Then much to your surprise, Violet ends up being the villain and Hacksaw the hero!

In reality, the names an author chooses for their characters may not be as definitive such as these.  I chose them to point out how important it is for a name to fit the character, otherwise, you stand a very good chance of disappointing your readers.  However, I do feel it important to point out there are exceptions to everything and perhaps a writer would have a good reason to choose a name that didn’t fit a character.  How about you, do you carefully choose names to fit the character?


Character flaw is the single most important attribute when it comes to defining your main characters.  After all, isn’t it your main character’s struggle that drives the story?  How about your antagonist’s flaw, doesn’t it drive them to do what they do?  Let’s explore:

Often times without having a complete understanding of a character’s inner struggle many writers spend too much time moving characters around like marionettes on a stage.  But, by taking time to grasp what drives your characters their flaw will move them in the direction demanded by the story you need to tell. 

One technique I use in helping me show my protagonist’s profound change after their epiphany is in their character sketch I define what they were like when they didn’t understand their flaw and then what they are like after recognizing and overcoming their flaw.  Having this understanding allows me to freely write as if they themselves were pounding away on the keyboard!  How about you, do have a technique you use to help connect with your character’s inner struggle?


Your main characters should have a goal; otherwise, their actions have no motivation.  The goal can be a direct result of their flaw or it could be driven by the plot.  Let’s explore:

If your protagonist lacks self-confidence they most likely will spend most of their time struggling to avoid doing what they really should be doing.  Your readers will see this and thus when your protagonist finally sees the light and wins in the end they will thank you!

By putting your protagonist, who’s afraid of commitment, into situations where they will be motivated to overcome their flaw makes for a great love story!

So then, by knowing and understanding your character’s flaw you’re better able to shape their motivation letting these two attributes work together to energize your story.


Real people’s personality is shaped by events that happened to them in the past, thus, by you creating events in your character’s past which explain their flaw you too can make them become “real” to your readers.  How about you, do you establish a history for your characters?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying that every event you create for your characters should be written about in the story, but when you as the author has the inside knowledge of why they behave the way they do you’re better able to write convincing characters that act and react to situations according to their personality.  So go ahead, be creative and daring, it’s only fiction after all!

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author        


  1. Oh, yeah! We certainly agree here: with everything.

    I pick names from real life or history. Sometimes legends. Since I roll non-fiction into my fiction, some names must be changed. Can't be getting sued. :D

    All my people have flaws. That makes them believable. In the novel I'm wrapping up now, even God has flaws. I spare no one. So far I'm still alive, so God must have a sense of humor.

    History must be told or we know nothing about anything. In my novel, the battle between two antagonists would mean zilch if the early history between the two was not explained.

    Great post.

  2. All good points. Names, Flaws, and Goals really are important. I would say names are one of my pet peeves I judge an author on. I really hate boring names... and I'm critical of too strange of names.

  3. Thank you Blaze and Austin!

    I too am a stickler for names, sometimes I mixed names together of people I know to make them interesting. Being I mainly write middle-grade novels names are very important. Kids are picky about names and they like them to be interesting, funny or something they can relate to.

    Thank you both for taking the time to visit and leave a post! :)