The Secret Sauce to Character Development – Guest Post by Ron D. Voigts

Or how not to make your character look like a turkey.

I’ve read plenty of books on character development. Filling out six page profiles. Answering questionnaires. Writing biographies. My advice is screw it. You came into this wanting to be writer, not an HR manager.

Here are my six easy steps.

1. Start writing. If it’s a novel, do around 10K words. For a short story, most likely the whole thing. This is not fixed, but you want to be at a point where you know what you want in your characters.

2. Find a key characteristic or two that sets the character apart from the rest. Make sure you have some well-defined, unique traits. Big Mike is mean. Old Lady Grayson pinches pennies.

3. Name them. Think about it carefully because the name must match the person. Is he Michael or Mike or Big Mike or Mikey? Each one conjures up a different image.

4. How do they look? No one cares about hair color or the shade of their eyes. But Old Lady Grayson’s hump is getting bigger, or half of Big Mike’s left ear was shot off. Guaranteed no one will forget them.

5. What do your characters sound like? They all talk differently. They will have tag lines. You have to hear them. “Hey! You wanna settle it out back in the alley?” Bet you know it’s not Old Lady Grayson speaking.

6. If you can link them up with someone you know or someone from real life, great! Just be careful of too much coincidence and maybe toss in a disclaimer at the beginning that any resemblance to people living or dead is poorly coincidence.

That’s it. Too simple? The most memorable characters are the ones that stand off the page. And don’t fret about being too one dimensional. Big Mike may just have a tender moment, and Old Lady Grayson will find some way of giving back.

So what’s your secret to writing a slam-bang character?


 Recently, Ron D. Voigts pulled is two Tween Mysteries from his agent with an eye on self-publishing.  His debut novel PENELOPE AND THE BIRTHDAY CURSE is available in ebook and paperback at Barnes and Noble and places he never heard of before.  His next book PENELOPE AND THE GHOST’S TREASURE is targeted for release in September. He does most of his writing in the dead of night and on weekends. When not writing, he enjoys doing puzzles, reading books and working on his culinary skills. 

Be sure to check out his blog at where he has posted part 2  – Helpful Hints to Serving Characters Up to Your Guests

4 thoughts on “The Secret Sauce to Character Development – Guest Post by Ron D. Voigts

  1. mariminiatt July 21, 2011 / 8:47 am

    Thank you,
    Yup that is how most of my characters come out. If I don’t know who they are by the end of my rough draft, they don’t belong.
    The names can be tricky. In my troll story I set up the naming rules for the trolls. Troll females were named after plants. Troll males, animals, namely wolves and bears. The unisex names were rocks. Sounds strange but after I gathered about 100 names with those definitions I had a lot to work with. But even then, the right one had to fit the right character.
    I “cast” actors, actresses, people I know as the characters in my head. like a guideline on how they behave. Sometimes its a mix of a few people.
    As for how they talk. Steopa, my vampire does not use contractions. That actually bothered only one person I know. But most people can tell it is him talking because he will not use any. It comes from his first language and how he was raised, so it defines him really well.
    Swearing, or the lack of swearing, is a wonderful character tool.
    For me I can’t start writing the story until the characters start to form in my head. They are the ones telling the story, not me.

  2. Elizabeth Ann West July 21, 2011 / 1:28 pm

    Ditto on the THANK YOU!!! I am an outliner, but interviewing my characters just always felt like a waste of time. If I try to make them do something out of character, they let me know. I have certain physical movements for each character, too. Like my female lead does the pull all of her hair back like she is going to tie it up, twists it and let’s it fall. It drives my male lead character nuts. 🙂 A secondary character mangles paperclips into shapes when he’s nervous at work. Etc.

  3. Ascension For You July 23, 2011 / 2:56 pm

    Great post Jo so thanks for sharing. My type of current books don’t have characters but i found it very interesting! Cheers Dave

  4. Ruth Ann Nordin July 30, 2011 / 7:59 pm

    Finally! A post about not doing character sketches the long and drawn out way! I hate all that paperwork. Just start writing and have fun is my motto. 😀

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