Creating characters #AtTheSpa with @youngswain and @ideastap

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So many of the blogs and online forums I’ve seen have recommended just completing the draft. (There is something strange and powerful about finishing a draft. A magical power that you want to achieve but sometimes everything under the sun will stop you from doing so.) I started off okay, but yesterday I came to a bit of a standstill just after 2. Which was a relief really because when I went back online, I realised I’d booked an Ideastap workshop with Kirstie Swain on Creating Characters.

First off, we told the room about ourselves: names, what kind of writer we identified ourselves as and a fun fact. (Mine was my crush that applies only to Bruce Willis, while he’s in a sweaty, grubby vest.) The point? These are all random things that make me “me”, or you “you” or a character different to the archetype.

We went on to consider things that defines a character. The OED defines character as

the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character”

So what are the mental and moral qualities that define an individual? Some of the ones we came up with are:

  • Personality
  • Opinions
  • Status
  • Temperament
  • World view (Reaction to events)
  • Motivation
  • Taste
  • Emotions
  • Habits
  • Fears
  • Morals
  • Beliefs / Values
  • Actions – what do they do? What is their journey?

In order to go beyond the archetypes, you need to know what they are. So here you go:

8 Archetypes

  1. Hero
  2. Shadow (Villain or Enemy within)
  3. Mentor
  4. Herald (Who brings the “call to arms”)
  5. Threshold Guardian (who stands in the way at important moments)
  6. Shapeshifter (Vampires to the two-faced)
  7. Tricksters (think Shakespeare’s Clowns)
  8. Allies

“The sum of all observable qualities of a human being, everything knowable through careful scrutiny: age and IQ, sex and sexuality, style of speech and gesture, choices of home, car and dress, education and occupation, personality and nervosity, values and attitudes – all aspects of humanity we could know by taking notes on someone day in and day out.” (Robert McKee)

What do they do with all these characteristics? And do we make characters realACTION! Where are they going? EMPATHY! As a writer, you have to like them in some way. One example was the Jackson kids in Eastenders. Robbie and Sonia weren’t that popular to begin with so Robbie got Well’ard and Sonia got a Trumpet. Apparently this worked in making them likeable. DESIRE! What are there goals? Their aim for the story? OBSTACLES! what are the desires, flaws. people or events that stand in the way of their desire? WORLD VIEWS! What drives them? What stops them? How would they react in certain situations? STATUS! Where are they in the pecking order? Are they moving up or down? Is it a slow or fast ascent or descent?

We then chose an image and a quote that Kirstie had been lovingly collecting from magazines for the last few weeks and answered the following questions, anything to help you get inside their head.


  • Gender and age
  • Name
  • Nationality
  • Place of birth
  • Distinguishing features
  • Living arrangements
  • Job
  • Financial situation
  • Education
  • Who are there parents?
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Best friends
  • What was their childhood like?
  • How do they travel to work?
  • Hobbies
  • Earliest memory
  • Martial Status
  • Any previous criminal convictions?

Other questions could be:

    • Fancy dress costumes?
    • Their last meal?
    • Where are they happiest?
    • Greatest fear?
    • Which living person they most admire, and why?
    • Most embarrassing moment?
    • When were they happiest?
    • What makes they unhappy?
    • What do they most dislike about their appearance?
    • Favourite word?
    • Who they would apologise to, and why?
    • Who or what is their love of their life?
    • What they think love feels like?
    • Their dream dinner party guests?
    • Words or phrases most overused?
    • Their most treasured possession?
    • What is their favourite smell?
    • One single thing to improve the quality of their life?
    • Have they ever said “I love you” and not meant it?
    • If they went back in time, where would they go, and why?
    • How would they like to be remembered?
    • Their most important lesson life has taught them?
    • Their darkest secret?

Here’s my image. (I took the girl on the far right as my inspiration.) The quote, in case you can’t see it, is “I don’t eat any fish. I don’t like any part of it – smell, taste, texture.” Here are my answers:

Georgia-Louise is 5 years old and was born in Beverley Hills, LA. She is single. Brady was last week, Toby is this week and possible Mark will be her boyfriend next week. 

She has a heart-shaped birthmark on her right shoulder blade. Everyone loves it, she hates it. 

She is in pre-school. She doesn’t need a job and her daddy’s credit card is all she needs. 

She has no criminal convictions. Yet.

She lives in a house overlooking the beach, their own private beach. It has 5 bathrooms, 7 bedrooms, a home cinema, 1 outdoor and 1 indoor swimming pool and a summerhouse, where her nanny, Ling, lives.

She lives with her mom and her dad. Her mom is a socialite – a big funder in the political world – and her father runs a big talent agency in Hollywood with a bunch of spoilt brats on the books.

Her best friend is Cecelia (second from right) and she likes manicures and facials. She hates pedicures: People shouldn’t touch your feet.

Wilson, her chauffeur, drives her to and from school in a Silver Mercedes S-Class.

Her earliest memory is of her parents arguing, She doesn’t know what about but she hated having to be locked in her nursery with her nanny instead of playing in the pool.

Her ideal fancy dress costume is Marilyn Munroe. Or Lindsay Lohan.

She hates fish, refuses all carbs and only eat sweets on Sundays when her mom’s out and her nanny is studying. After she binges on chocolate and haribos, she makes herself sick,

She hates Mondays and Mrs Galeki’s mole.

The next thing we did was to write A-Z and pass the paper/book around the room until we all had a word or a phrase each.

  1. Animalistic
  2. Brick
  3. Carless
  4. Define my role
  5. Everything is pointless
  6. False alarm
  7. Great Britain is
  8. Holy
  9. Illegible
  10. Jugular
  11. Kraken
  12. Lauren
  13. Memories
  14. Neon lights
  15. Okra
  16. Prague is great right now
  17. Illegible
  18. Red rum
  19. Snuggle
  20. Toddlers … So cute
  21. Undeniable longing
  22. Illegible
  23. Wicked
  24. Xanthe
  25. Yes
  26. Zzz…

Then, alongside the original quote, we had 10 minutes to put them together in a little monologue.

[Sunday afternoon, the nursery. Georgia-Louise is surrounded  by toys and wrappers and is playing with two Barbie dolls and a Barbie Volkswagon.]

(Sings) “Memories. All alone in the moonlight!”

(Offstage, there is a mumbled yell.)

(Wired.) No, Ling, I’ve told you before: I don’t eat any fish. I don’t like any part of it – smell, taste, texture. Okay? The Kracken was a fish, I don’t eat fish and I don’t eat Okra. (She continues playing with her dolls, reenacting a conversation she’s heard elsewhere.)
“Ohmygod, Xanthe, believe me: Prague is great right now.”
“Lauren, err, no! And Great Britain is falling. I’m so over Europe. Europe is for hicks”
“I just have this undeniable longing: Toddlers… So cute.”
“You really go for the jugular, you bitch. I will find a surrogate. I will! You’re so animalistic.”
“Me? I’m not still wearing animal print. It’s all about Neon. Lights.”
“Did you hear? Ken is carless.”
“Yes Barbie took him for everything. Everything.
(She hurls the dolls across the room.) Everything is so pointless.
(She is manic.) It’s holy! HOLY! Stupid fucking brick. What a stupid fucking brick.
(She screams:) STUPID FUCKING BRICK. Red rum. RED RUM! An-an-an-animal-maul-mauling-shopping-malling-animal-hiss-hiss-tic. Tick, tick, tick. It’s a false alarm, a false alarm. False, false, false. False.
(She slumps.) Why won’t you let me snuggle mommy? (She falls asleep.) Zzz…

 It’s not particularly easy to do but it’s a good way to get out of your head. If you can’t get enough minds together to find a variety of 26 words, grab a dictionary and see what you can randomly find.

A Recommended Reading list is below and under that is a Character Questionnaire that Kirstie gave us in case you ever get stuck…

  • The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
  • Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke

Everyone is different and prefer different structures, so other books to check out are:

  • The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
  • The Crafty Art of Playmaking by Alan Ayckbourn
  • Playwriting: A Practical Guide by Noël Greig
  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby
  • The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting by Syd Field
  • Story Maps: How To Write a Great Screenplay by Daniel P. Calvisi
  • and you can’t beat reading your favourite script or screenplay to help you learn your art.


  • Name
  • Gender
  • D.O.B
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status
  • Distinguishing physical features – scars? tattoos? piercings? imperfections?
  • Job
  • Financial situation
  • Criminal record
  • Education
  • Where do they live now
  • Who are their parents?
  • What’s their relationship with them?
  • Any siblings? Relationship?
  • Who’s their best friend?
  • What was their childhood like?
  • What are some special relationships in their life?
  • How do they travel?
  • Do they read? If so, what? Books? Magazines? Newspapers? Which ones?
  • Hobbies?
  • Are they a cat or dog person?
  • Flaw?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Which living person do you most admire and why?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment?
  • What makes you unhappy?
  • What is your most unappealing habit?
  • What is your favourite smell?
  • What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
  • What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
  • What is your guiltiest pleasure?
  • To whom would you most like to say sorry and why?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • What does love feel like?
  • Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
  • If you could edit your past, what would you change?
  • How often do you have sex?
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What song would you like played at your funeral?
  • What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
  • Tell us a secret
  • When were you happiest?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • Property aside, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment?
  • What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • What has been your biggest disappointment?
  • If you could go back in time, where would you go?
  • How do you relax?
  • What is your favourite word?
  • What do you owe your parents?
  • What is the worst job you’ve done?
  • What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
  • What keeps you awake at night?
  • What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
  • If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
  • What is your favourite book?
  • What is your guiltiest pleasure?
  • If you could edit your past, what would you change?
  • When did you last cry, and why?
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What would your super power be?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What was the best kiss of your life?
  • Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
  • What is the closest you’ve come to death?
  • Who are you closest to?
  • What would you save in a fire?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • How would you like to be remembered?

Author: littlemissmandu

Polymath. Writer. Eurasian Daisy Steiner. Best Cheerleader '93.

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