Breathing Life into the Characters in Your Head

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 | 12 comments

Breathing Life into the Characters in Your Head

Today we look at how a little research and creative thinking can assist you in breathing life into the characters inside your head.



Wandering Wednesdays



“He chafed at the chains of anger, rebellion, and depression…”

This one line should create a picture in your mind. What does it tell you about the person? As writers, we must translate the person in our head into a description on the page that makes our readers love, hate, pity, and long to know more about them. So where do you begin?

Ideas for characters are found in many places, acquaintances, a shopper in the mall, a character in a TV series, or someone who grows in your imagination until one day they begin to breathe. I remember watching a DVD of an old TV series one day and discovering my hero in flesh and blood on the screen. He wasn’t quite everything I had been writing, but he was close enough that I could use him to help me describe my character’s facial expressions.

Use a stereotype for a particular location, or perhaps choose the exact opposite of that stereotype. There have been a few times I recognized my character in something someone said and realized I could use it, with a few changes, of course. Our acquaintances have no idea how many ideas they inspire.

Chose a name for the meaning or sound of their name. Charles Dickens was the master. Think Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, or Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. If you read the book in English class it probably still creates a picture in your memory. I was a long way into writing Land of My Dreams before I realized that Bonny’s former fiancé, the lawyer, was named Adam Lawson—it just fit. There are websites of common names in different countries, baby names, famous names, etc., that might have just what you’re looking for.

Create a Character Background Sheet with questions to ask yourself. Include things such as hair color, eye color, body build, hobbies, job, and then dig deeper. What is their greatest unfulfilled need? Do they stay on a strict budget, or do they spend every dime they have in their pocket? What kind of childhood might have contributed to the person they are as an adult? How well did they do in school?

Keep a file of possible look-a-likes from the internet, actors, models, people in Google images that catch your eye. Have photos of them in different kinds of dress and backgrounds. Watch for character traits and expressions in the characters in your favorite movies or television shows.

Research the colloquial accents, slang, and speech styles of the setting. Look up different shades of blue for their eyes: sapphire, cerulean, or the Scottish flag. What gemstone is the color of their eyes? In my WIP a Scottish character has deep brown eyes. I discovered a brown gemstone peculiar to Scotland, called a cairngorm. When the character is excited, his eyes sparkle like a cairngorm in a jeweler’s window—perfect for the setting and his mood.

The more unique words you use to describe your character in different situations, the more they will spring to life in the minds of your readers. Just make certain the reader understands the meaning of the word you choose.

When the character is fleshed out in your own mind, you can breathe life into them and make them create a picture in the minds of your readers that will last long after the book has been read.


© Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, March 24, 2015


  1. Love the cairngorm tip 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kayla!

  2. This is just a fascinating read, Norma. I love your tips and your ideas here. What a great help you are to aspiring authors who need this guidance!

    • Thank you! I’m so glad it was helpful!

  3. Excellent lesson for writers, Norma. The best read is when an author fleshes out all of those little details and really makes a book become alive.

    • Thank you, Mary! Details are the fun part for the writer as well as the reader.

  4. Wonderful specific ideas and tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re very welcome! Glad to be of help!

  5. This is so helpful, Norma! I love all the specific ideas, and I will definitely borrow them as I dive in to a revision of a novel. I need to explore the characters more deeply and specifically, and your article has sparked some great points to ponder. Thanks!

    • I’m so glad it was helpful! Thank you for commenting!

  6. I love the specifics; love the detail. I have a book; have characters, but didn’t know how to get them out of my head and heart and onto a page. You’ve showed me my way to begin t. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful, Mary! May God bless your writing journey!

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