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Character Creation or stuck for ideas?

Character Creation or stuck for ideas?

©Alan Grace

One of the first parts of writing for me is character creation. It also helps sometimes when stuck for a new story to create several characters and see what happens to them I have included a sample character John ‘Lizard’ McGrath. I made him up as a ‘stream of conscience’ in about half an hour, so it need not take long. Obviously he can be ‘fine tuned’ at a later date.


Sample Character

John ‘Lizard’ McGrath

John McGrath was born to a poor family in Southampton, and has two older brothers, (Patrick and Jamie) and a younger sister Daisy. His dad left when he was two, and his mum struggled to bring them up alone. When he was twelve, his mum married Ethan Edwards. He turned out to be an abusive drunk, and when John was fifteen, he took a hit too many and fought back, breaking his step dad’s jaw before he ran away.

John spent four years on the street, getting into trouble with the police for fighting and theft. When he was nineteen he met Father Jake Thompson, a Catholic minister. He helped him though his drug and alcohol problems, although John still had a terrible anger. He joined the army, getting into the SAS, and served in the Gulf War, then in Northern Ireland and the invasion of Iraq.

It was in Iraq that he was blown up by a roadside bomb, and lost an eye. He was offered a false eye, by decided to have a patch instead. He left the army on medical grounds becoming a reporter.

He became embroiled in many stories he was covering. In 2010, he saved the life of a high ranking police officer who was the target of the RIRA. When he was covering the 2012 London Olympics, he uncovered a plot by anarchists who were planning to release a nerve agent over the Olympic Village.

He got the nickname ‘Lizard’ from his army days, when he was in the SAS, his ability to conceal himself was like a Chameleon.

Name: John McGrath

DOB: 03/07/1970

POB: Southampton

Occupation: Reporter

Height: 6ft 2”

Weight: 13stone

Eyes: Dark Brown

Hair: Brown with a few flecks of grey.

Appearance: John is quite a character; he is blind in his right eye and wears a patch with a lizard symbol on. His nose has a small scar on, and he rarely smiles. He is scruffy, often with stubble and short spiky hair.

Religion: Catholic – Quite devout.

Family: He is not close to his brothers as they turned against him when he left home and was an alcoholic. He is very close to his sister Daisy. He hardly ever talks to his mum, who he has never forgiven for marrying Ethan. He was fond of his gran, but she died when he was in Iraq – something he feels guilt for.

Friends; Closet friend is Father Jake Thompson, who has given him a reason to live and introduced him to his faith. He has many friends from his days in the army, although he is not very close to them, as he finds it hard to trust people. He does get on well with Charlie Fitzgerald who he went through army training with.

Enemies: He hated Ethan Edwards, his step dad, and fell out with fellow reporter Laura Johnson. Some of his operations in the SAS and later as a reporter has made him some dangerous enemies.

Interests/like: John likes anything to do with the military, and builds military models. He also enjoys go-karting and rugby. He likes the USA and admires the Ghurkhas.

Dislikes: He dislikes gambling on religious grounds, and is tee-total and against drugs due to his past. He hates fishing, finding it boring, and hates the Welsh.

Personality: John is often withdrawn and solemn, he smiles rarely. He distrusts all but those closest to him. However, he is totally loyal to people and would do anything he can to look after them. He is quick to anger, and this has often resulted in violence.

Dreams/ambitions: John would like to settle down one day and marry, but he enjoys his job too much. He has occasionally thought about joining the clergy.


Character Creation or stuck for ideas?


Character creation is simple, and almost like creating a character in Dungeons and Dragons. (Actually on some characters in the past, I have used the Warhammer character creation for this!) During the course of writing a story, I often learn more about my characters so I add details as I go. Maybe the character will mention that he likes orange juice, so will add that.

I start with the character’s Christian names from looking at baby name websites. I choose a name which has images of what he looks like. Names are related to personalities. ‘John’ is quite a tough name –such as John Wayne, John McClane (die Hard) or John-117 (Halo).  Other names in the character profile was very random but appropriate to background (nationality, ethnicity, age)

Next I move to physical details, so I know what the character looks like. From his name, I will have some ideas already. This will have hair colour, eye colour etc. If I am writing a novel and the character is important, I would probably draw a picture of him

The background was made up as I went. I only slowed to check a few details such as dates of the Gulf war; I did not want him to be three when he went to war! As this was a random character I did not need to write any pre-made story about him. I did want him to be a little different so he had no right eye. A background is important as, unless writing about a newborn, everyone has ‘done stuff’ before the story begins. It also helps mould their personality and motivations. Look at yourself – why do you like and think this and that?

All people, even evil dictators or brave soldiers have families and interests and views of the world. No one is totally evil or totally perfect. John’s likes would have to be appropriate to his job – no point being lazy and fat when he is a reporter and former SAS soldier. What he dislikes can be wide ranging. He could have been a frothing racist, or dislike baked beans. I chose him to dislike gambling which fits with his faith, and having been through the horrors of alcohol and drugs, it is very likely he would dislike that. The dislike of the Welsh was only to be a rounded character. Even people who claim not to be racist often dislike someone (Many English dislike the French.) Of course how this dislike manifests itself remains to be seen. Does he hate them to a degree he would not work with them? Does he call them nasty names or just distrust them? As a hero of a story, it cannot be too nasty. He was going to dislike the Irish, having served in Northern Ireland, but then being Catholic it may not have been appropriate.

Dreams are what drive people. Why does he not just stay in bed all day? This is important for a story as it affects how people act. Despite his tough lifestyle, he is possibly a romantic at heart and would love a wife and kids.

Stuck on a Story? – Or Where to Go now?

Ok, so if you are stuck on a story, you could create a random character like this, but where to go next? Look over the character and he will write a story for you. Here are a few ideas on John:

  • He is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress
  • He is struggling with his faith
  • An enemy comes to kill/blackmail him. Maybe from his SAS mission or reporting.
  • He uncovers a major threat while reporting – terrorism, drug trafficking, assassination attempt etc (think action films!)
  • The story of his attempt to become a member of the clergy.
  • His love life
  • He is recalled for ‘one last job’ by the SAS (as obviously there is no one else who can do it.)
  • He is decorated for his action.
  • His mum dies and there is dispute or resolution with Ethan Edwards.
  • Expand on his enemy Laura Johnson – why do they not get on?
  • Tell the story of his fight in Iraq where he lost his eye.
  • He wants to repair his relationship with family

Ok, so you get the picture. It can be almost any genre you like, a short story or a novel. To expand further, use several components; he has to go back to Iraq, but is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, or he has to work with a Welsh man. Maybe he has to cover a story with Laura Johnson. Or maybe, he is getting an MBE from the Queen but uncovers a terrorist plot or feels guilty and wants his mum to be there. He would have to make up with her and try to have some kind of relationship with Ethan.

The likes and interests also help set scenes. It expands scope of where people can meet up and also who their friends would be. It is probable that John has friends who also enjoy rugby as well, and he could meet some at the local rugby pitch and talk to them, or meet a potential girlfriend at the Go-Karting track.

So that is just a few ideas if you want to create characters or are stuck for ideas on what to write next. Play around, and most importantly – HAVE FUN!

Book Review: “Dying Inside” by Robert Silverberg

Review: “Dying Inside”

By Robert Silverberg

(Sidgwick and Jackson 1972 ISBN 028398577I)

Davis Selig is a Jewish New Yorker in the 1970’s but has an incredible power of mind reading. He can enter minds and see what they know and think, seeing it as images. He has few friends, and the person he is closest to is his sister, and they do not particularly like each other. She is one of the few people who know of his power. However, the power is dying; he is finding it harder and harder to enter other minds.

As the book progresses, we learn of how he has used the power and the few people who have been close to him. It shows that he has identifies himself as ‘different’, and why this made him sad and lonely.

What to say about this book? Well it is hard going, the timeline jumps about, and there is a theses in full (He writes them) which does not contribute to the story at all, except possibly illustrating his character more. This chapter is long arduous and irrelevant.

            Yet the book is fantastic. Books about superheroes are about people who have fantastic powers and use them to save/takeover the world. Get real! If most people could read minds why not use it to get laid or cheat or have an easy life. David is too lazy and insecure to use his powers to get immensely wealthy or get a career, but he uses it to ‘bum about. Hey this is the 1970’s after all. The book is depressing about how much damage being different is, and Selig goes from applauding his powers to cursing them.

            The characters are strong, especially David, who despite being a bit of a loser, is lovable. The story is enjoyable and raises many questions, such as what we would really do if we had superpowers, and what is it like to be different in society. The ending is good, but not how I would have expected it. The content is very adult, and sometimes sexually disturbing.

            I had never heard of Robert Silverberg before, but found out with Google that he is normally a Sci-Fi writer and is a prolific author, and in 1958 had 80 stories published. He had been having 5 published a month previously. I will be seeking out more of his works.

Verdict: Fantastic book, I recommend it.