One of my favorite things to do is create characters for my stories, and that’s really where a good story starts. Create a three-dimensional protagonist, who’s not all good or all bad, who suffers the same issues as we do in our day-t0-day lives and then, throw them into a world of pain.

A teddy bear named Tommy.
Image via Wikipedia

That’s right… a world of pain. ūüôā

So, let me share my secret for creating cool characters, and it’s not something I thought up on my own. I got it from John D. MacDonald, the mystery writer. I once read an interview where he said that to “show” your character, you need to give them 5 material ¬†objects — things they have with them throughout the story and¬†occasionally¬†refer to.

It’s great advice, but how do you figure out what those 5 objects should be?


Create a dossier for every important character in your story. Here are some things I like to include:

  • Give them a cool name, of course
  • When were they born? How old are they?
  • Where did they go to school, and if higher education, where was that? What’s their degree in? (For adult characters, of course.)
  • Are they religious and what are the details?
  • How do they relate to parental or guardian authority?
  • Who are their friends? Details, please?
  • What’s their psychological profile? What would the score in a Meyers-Briggs personality test?

And stuff like that. You can be as detailed and deep as you like, and you should put a lot of thought into it. I found that if I really got into my character, the story just came from there. And my 5 objects came from there, too. Just be sure that whatever they are, they go toward “showing” something about your character.

For example, if your 12-year-old boy still has a teddy bear near his bed, readers will wonder why. Well, what if his grandfather gave it to him when he was six years old? What if he lives with some distant relatives because his parents were killed when he was a baby and he’s not treated well? What if his grandfather raised him until two days after he got the teddy bear? What if someone teases him about it? What do you think would happen?

This is a really strong way to make characters real, thanks to Mr. MacD. Just be sure that whatever objects you use come out with are related to your plot in some way. Don’t just pick out 5 random things. Choose things with a background story.

Think of the “leg” lamp or the furnace in “A Christmas Story.” They went a long way toward showing the dad, didn’t they?

Try it! You might be surprised at how well it works.

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