Friday, February 20, 2015

Creating Characters by Cheryl St.John

Cheryl St.John
Writers Digest recently released a book titled Creating Characters. It’s a compilation of chapters from various authors, all on the subject of character, and the editor has grouped them into nine sections by topic. My RWA chapter Romance Authors of the Heartland is going through this book one section per month this year. The book lends itself beautifully to any type of study like this, because each chapter is a nugget of good info on its own.

After opening this book and glancing through, I made up my mind this would be my study book in 2015. I cracked the spine (which I never do) so it lies flat and have written up and down the margins, underlined and circled. If I wear it out, I’ll buy another one.

It’s not that there’s an earth-shattering new concept between the pages. I like this book because it makes me look at developing characters with fresh eyes and a new perspective, as well as reminding me why the basics still work.

Part One is Getting Started, and Chuck Wendig kicks it off with 25 Things You Should Know About Your Character. I camped out on #6 for a while: Not Likeability, but Rather Livability. “It doesn’t matter if we “like” your character…it only matters that we want to live with him. We must see something that makes us want to keep on keeping on…” I’ve long believed this about characters in the state of development: We can’t make real people do what we think they should do. We’re not them. We don’t think like them.

Characters are more realistic if they do things we would never do or behave in ways we don’t approve of. They are not all “us.” The most extreme example of this I can think of is Dexter. The writer developed a character completely outside our stratosphere of acceptable behavior, but he also gave him profound motivation, and through internal narration made him sympathetic. We knew why Dexter behaved the way he did and we cared enough about him that we didn’t want him to get caught.

In #19 Chuck adds to my thought: You Are Not Your Character, Except When You Are. “You take the things that have happened to you and you bring them to the character…Pull out the feelings.” Which is what I went into depth about in Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict. Learn the things that create emotion in you and use them to advantage in your story. This section also goes into choosing names and introducing your character for the first time.

Part Two is on point of view and Part Three dialogue. Part Four protagonists and Part Five antagonists. I have reread this section a couple of times. I enjoyed chapter 17 on antiheroes by Jessica Page Morrell . Examples are Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry and John McClane in Die Hard. Readers root for this character despite his flaws or the things he might have done. Ms. Morrell created roles for anti-heroes: Everyman, vigilante or tarnished knight, charming criminal (Ocean’s Eleven, To Catch a Thief), dark hero (Aliens), reluctant hero (Hans Solo), loser, outcast, screwball (Romancing the Stone), disgraced hero, oddball, rebel (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). There are a couple of good chapters on villains too.

Part Six is about supporting characters, Part Seven: conflict, Part Eight: motivation and relationships (Yours Truly has a chapter here titled Motivation and Realism, imagine that?) and Part Nine: character arcs. I’ve read the entire book through and have gone back to study different sections at a time. If you’re like me and always up for another book on the writing craft, this one is different enough and diverse enough to give you food for thought. If I whetted your appetite for The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a copy of CreatingCharacters-The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction.
Or grab a copy here:

Follow my Facebook author page:

Cheryl's got another great craft book available, too.

Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict:

Today's highly competitive fiction market requires writers to imbue their novels with that special something - an element that captures readers' hearts and minds. In Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, writers will learn vital techniques for writing emotion into their characters, plots and dialogue in order to instill that special something into every page.


Helen Gray said...

The coffee pot is on duty. Line up with your mugs.

Sounds like a resource that every serious write should have.

Thanks for sharing.

Now I'm headed over to Petticoats and Pistols to spend the day.

Kara Isaac said...

Just wanted to share my BIG news with Seekerville since you've been so pivotal in my writing journey.

I've signed a two-book contract with Howard Books!!!! My debut romantic comedy, Then There Was You, will be an early 2016 release :)

Wilani Wahl said...

I will try again my first is not showing up.

Congratulations kara. I am thrilled for you.

Cheryl , this book sounds like a must have for every writer.

Keli Gwyn said...

Congratulations, Kara, on your First Sale!!! Enjoy the thrill.

I have both of these craft books on my bookshelf. They're moving to the top of my TBR pile, er, mountain.

Elaine Stock said...

This sounds like one fine resource book to have!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kara Isaac!!!!! OH MY STARS!!! OH MY STARS!!!!! OH MY STAAAAAAARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!







Ruth Logan Herne said...

Okay, craft books, Cheryl!!!!

You made them sound almost appealing, darling!

I think it's very good to put ourselves through courses/lessons/studies that re-sharpen the tools in our box.

Anything that keeps us on top of the game as we develop our careers, is huge.

Cheryl, my beautiful friend, thank you so much for being here today. This makes Friday E.S.


It's a Lenten Friday so I brought Hot Cross Buns but they're with a Hawaiian Roll base, so they're softer and chewier. Some with raisins, some without.

Perfect with our morning coffee and/or tea and hot chocolate!

It's -8 here right now, but in the front room I've got a fire and a cowboy book that's calling my name because I need to see what new hurdle lies before Nick and Elsa.


See you all later!

Cindy W. said...

Congratulations Kara, how exciting for you.

Craft books are good and Creating Characters-The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction sounds like a book that could really help me create believable characters. I would love to win a copy.

Blessings to everyone today!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Kelly Bridgewater said...

I'm always looking for more writing craft books. I gave been wanting Cheryl ' s other book about writing emotions. I would live to win a copy of this book.

Rose said...

Hi Cheryl!

This sounds like a must have book for all writers.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Hope to see you in person soon!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Cheryl, Thank you for joining us in Seekerville today. What a great source of information and its so true that even if we know the basics, it never hurts to get a fresh perspective of them.

Thanks again and enjoy your day with us.

Mary Hicks said...

Congratulations, Kara! I'm smiling.

Cheryl, glad to see you back on Seekerville! The last time you were here you recommended 'Techniques of The Selling Writer'. I love it!
That book helps me more than all my other craft books put together. Seems like I study from it nearly every day.

I'll definitely check out "Creating Carachacters'.

See you on Pinterest!:-)

Jackie said...


Thanks for sharing. I ordered Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict. I'd love to have my name entered for
The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction. Thanks.

Kara, congratulations! I'm so excited for you!

Mary Hicks said...

Oops, sorry for the mis-spell in the title, 'Creating Characters'. Need more coffee! :-)

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Cheryl. Delighted to have you back in Seekerville!

Creating Characters sounds great. I'm impressed that you're active in your RWA chapter. Seems like published members don't often have, or maybe take, the time. Any tips on time management?


Janet Dean said...

Wahoo Kara!!!!! Congratulations on your two-book contract!! Romantic comedies are such fun.


kaybee said...

The classic example is Scarlett O'Hara. I mean, who REALLY likes her? But she Gets The Job Done. I have always focused on that aspect of her and I think that's what inspires us. Could one of us make a dress out of curtains and sally forth to save our families? Prob'ly. If we had to.
Please enter me in the drawing.

kaybee said...

Congratulations Kara.

kaybee said...

I won "Emotion, Tension and Conflict" last year in one of the Seekerville drawings. Very helpful.

kaybee said...

Yeah, so, Michael, the hero in the book I'm shopping around, is kind of an anti-hero. He's always lived for himself and done exactly as he pleased. But now he's reaping the consequences as he tries to outrun two old enemies from Ireland, and as the heroine Caroline's presence in his life throws the bad qualities into relief. But he has a good heart, and with the love of God and a good woman, he grows up. Hey, that makes sense, think I'll put it in my synopsis.

Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Cheryl! Good to see you in Seekerville again!

Good points all in creating unforgettable charcters. Shameless plug, but your book - Writing with ETandC, and the outstanding workshops you offer, are all about creating awesome characters. Yes ma'am, you're my go-to girl for character development.

You've hit on so many points of good character development, it makes my head spin to think about applying them all. I especially like the point about "liking" your character. There are great flaws we find in our characters - flaws that make them do what they do - and sometimes, they aren't the most admirable ones. BUT, we strive to redeem them by The End.

That's our job, right?

So glad you joined us today, Cheryl. You always have such great tidbits of advice.

Audra Harders said...

KARA! How can you say that so calmly?

WooHoo! A 2-book contract!!

So happy dancing for you!!!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kara's got adorable pics posted on Facebook....


Marianne Barkman said...

Congratulations Kara. Oh, I can't just run out and get it today, already?

Sherida Stewart said...

Cheryl, the photo of your marked book looks like my copy of your ET&C book....underlines and notes! "Change will keep the reader turning pages." Your book is filled with sparkling thoughts!

Thanks for the suggestion of a new craft book. Please put my name in the drawing.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Congratulations, Kara!

Cheryl, I am always ready to learn something new :)

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks for the book recommendation, CHERYL, and so glad to welcome you back to Seekerville today!

RUTHY, your hot cross buns brought back memories of my late stepmom-in-law, who made them every year for their church out in California. We had the chance to visit a couple of times around Easter, so it was fun to sample her goodies!

Myra Johnson said...

KARA!!!! Congratulations on the contract--WOOHOOO!!!!!!

Jennifer Smith said...

Sounds like a wonderful book! I will have to make sure I get a copy. :) Thanks for telling us about it.

And Kara Isaac, congratulations! So happy for you. :)

Mary Connealy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Connealy said...

One of the best explanations of Stephen King's popularity I ever heard was, at the end of the book Carrie, after she kills that gym full of people, the good along with the bad, we still wish she could have her happy ending.

That is the creation of a profoundly great character and that threads through King's work more strongly than the horror.

Sherida Stewart said...


Rhonda Starnes said...

Kara, congratulations on the two-book contract! That's wonderful news!!

Cheryl, I love craft books that make me want to highlight, underline, and take notes in the margins. Sounds like a book I need to add to my library. Thanks for sharing.

Meghan Carver said...

I'm always on the lookout for a great craft book, and here you've shared TWO! Thanks, Cheryl.

Missy Tippens said...

Cheryl, thanks for sharing! The new book sounds like it has a lot of great stuff. I'm a how-to book junkie! :) So I'm sure I'll be getting this one as well. I love toying with different methods, trying out new ways to work on my stories.

Missy Tippens said...

KARA!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm so excited for you! :) :) :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for your recommendations! We can always learn more about creating great characters!
I have been meaning to get your book on emotion - NOTE TO SELF!

On a huge deadline so can't linger!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Woo-hoo, Kara! Congratulations!
That's a quick turn around for your book to come out!
Enjoy every moment!!

CatMom said...

Thank you for sharing with us, Cheryl! Great info. and suggestions.
I remember meeting you at one of my first ACFW conferences, and I liked you right away (you were very kind and smiled at me a lot, LOL).


Hugs, Patti Jo

Julie Lessman said...


This books sounds AMAZING, and although I am not one to read many writing handbooks, this one has piqued my interests because I am definitely a character-driven author, so thank you, Cheryl!!


Julie Lessman said...

KARA!!!! I am soooo excited for you, girlfriend, and Howard is a GREAT publisher, so SUPER CONGRATS!!

LOVE the title, so I'm anxious to hear a blurb if you come back and read this, okay?


Sally Shupe said...

Hi, Cheryl! Love this post and would love to have my name entered for a copy of this book. Thanks!

Congratulations, Kara! That is such exciting news!

DebH said...

hi Cheryl
Thanks for giving more great info on character development. I would love to be in the draw for the book. I'll put it on my wish list for just in case I don't. I'm thinking I should get a couple more craft books to help me muddle along (although visiting Seekerville is educational in and of itself...).

p.s. Kara Huge congrats and Snoopy dancing for you!!!!! Awesome to read about yet another Seekervillean success!!!!

Pam Hillman said...

The book sounds like a great resource, Cheryl. And I think it's a cool idea to discuss it at your meetings each month. :)

KARA!!!! A two-book contract with Howard???? Congratulations!!!

Cheryl St.John said...

Good morning! (though it's almost noon here, yikes) Congrats on the sale, Kara!


Best book EVER, Mary! I cut my writing teeth on that book. I still remember the moment the light bulb went on in my head and I ran to all my favorite books, looking through, going YES! YES!


Cheryl St.John said...

Sherida, you know I love to hear that! Send me a photo. I'm going to do a "where in the world is" bit because so many have sent me pics of their books marked and flagged.


Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

HI Cheryl! This book sounds like a great craft book, and I'm not one to usually read those (although I really should...). I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

Hope to see you soon!

Karen Collier said...

That sounds like a really useful book. Thanks so much for sharing about it.

And congratulations Kara! How exciting! :)

Debby Giusti said...

Kara, such great news. Congrats!

Hope you're flying high because you should be. Keep the celebration going for days...maybe weeks. Okay, an entire year works for me!

So happy for you! YAY!

Hugs and High Fives!!!

Debby Giusti said...


You always provide such great writing insight in your blogs. Thank you! I need to get this book...and then study it like you do.

You've reminded me that I need a craft focus for the year.

Becky Dempsey said...

I learn so much on Seekerville! Cheryl, I agree so much about Dexter! You wouldn't think you'd be rooting for a serial killer!

Kara Isaac said...

Thanks so much for all the love and congratulations, everyone. I'm chasing around two little people solo while trying to keep on top of all the fun craziness!

AUDRA - I promise you I am far from calm in reality. I almost needed to find myself a paper bag to breathe into a couple of times yesterday :)

JULIE - No official blurb yet but here's a little bit about it :)

Dr. Allison Shire has been burnt by love before – and has the mounting legal bills to prove it. Jackson Gregory is only interested in one thing – rebuilding his business empire so he can save his family from financial ruin. When a tour of Middle-earth throws them together can they get beyond their shattered dreams to find the one thing they’re not looking for?

Janet Kerr said...

These books sound great. Thank you for pointing them out.

Sandy Smith said...

Please enter me into the drawing for the book. I am always interested in writing craft books.

Dana R. Lynn said...

Thanks Cheryl for the great information! This book sounds like a fabulous resource. Please include me in the drawing.

Tanya Agler said...

Cheryl, Thanks for the post.

For those of you who have never taken a class from Cheryl, I recommend her classes. She taught a class on positive thinking that I still think about. So much so that I just purchased her book because I definitely need to work on my characters showing their inner conflict. (I sound like a robot today-I promise I'm not!)

Thanks for some tips about characters and the importance of always digging deeper into the craft of writing.

Tanya Agler said...

I just saw Kara's news. Congratulations, Kara, on your two book deal.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Forgive me. I have been out of pocket all day AND I left my phone at work. Bad blogger hostess. It is as usual a treat to have you here, Cheryl.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I look forward to yet another great writing resource book from you. You are going to be a one woman writing library!

Are you speaking at RWA or ACFW this year??

Tina Radcliffe said...

Kara!!! Congratulations. Sooo happy for you.

Is this an ACFW Conference year for you???

Kara Isaac said...

It is! Counting down to Dallas in September and after it I'm heading to Nashville to meet the Howard team. EEEK!!

jubileewriter said...

It sounds like a very helpful book.Thanks for the comprehensive review. Put my name in the drawing. Cindy Huff

Whalehugger said...

Sounds like a great resource for character building. Please enter me in for the drawing and thanks for a great article.

Dana McNeely said...

Thanks for the tips about creating characters and for the recommendation of a good craft book on the subject. There's always more to learn!

Christine said...

That's one of the best things about becoming a fiction writer, you can actual be thankful for all the terrible things that may have happened in your past---great stuff to draw on while developing our characters. This was sure the case when I wrote my characters for my trilogy Twilight of the British Raj--able to pull on the emotions as the child of an alcoholic, and for that character grown up, to write from first hand experience how that alcoholic found sobriety & redemption from watching my own brother's struggle to healing.