What doesn’t work

First let’s take a look at something Brendan pointed me to.

Where to Find Thousands of Great Character Ideas… FREE

What if you had a magic “idea box,” and when you opened it up, character ideas just started pouring out? What would that do for your writing? If you had a magic idea box, you could:

Produce rich, 3-dimensional characters that readers will remember, because you will make readers laugh, cry, and feel for your characters.

Cut your writing time in half (or better), because you’ll know exactly where you are with each of your characters and exactly how to deal with any obstacles that arise.

Permanently overcome a major source of “writer’s block” not knowing how your characters fit into the story.

Virtually eliminate the frustration of creating characters and the fear that your characters will never be good enough.

Increase your writing prowess, and earn kudos from other writers.

Exercise your creative muscle, and make yourself more creative.

Write fictional characters that people want to get to know and to talk about.

Create characters that intrigue and excite you.

The magic “idea box” is for real. There actually is a writing tool that can help you do all these things. It starts with something every writer needs, and something you may even have already started. I’m talking about a character journal. A character journal is a long list of character traits. Whenever you need an idea, you go to the journal, and it helps you find the right character trait.

But a tool accomplishes nothing unless one knows how to wield it. And that is the secret to creating winning fictional characters with this tool, how to cash in on your character journal. Once you grasp this truth, you’ll appreciate that ideas really are only worth a dime a dozen, because you’ll have more great ideas coming to you than you ever thought possible.

As hard as it is to come up with great ideas, the raw ideas are actually the easy part. The hard part is taking those ideas and turning them into a story. Because even if you had all the ideas in the world, ideas can’t write your story for you. Only you can do that.

That’s why I’ve compiled this brand new PDF ebook, 1001 Character Quirks for Writing Fiction, with much more than just a list of character quirks. It includes:

1001 Character Quirks ready to use in real stories.

The single biggest mistake writers make with quirks, and the secret to using them effectively.

10 ways to enhance character with quirks.

12 techniques you can use to generate your own character ideas.

8 tips on how to multiply quirks, so you can turn these 1001 quirks into 2000, 3000, 10000, or as many as you want.

A 3-stage character-development process you can use to create realistic and interesting characters.

A quick-list of 35 questions you can ask to give your character depth, and which questions not to ask.

A simple, 5-step writing process you can use to turn any character into a story, even if you’ve never written a story before.

An actual fictional character, soup to nuts, including a snippet from a finished story starring the character.

Numerous concrete examples and enlightening anecdotes.

Free downloads of future editions of the ebook.

This is an $8.34 value, because the core is a list of 1001 ideas, and ideas are a dime a dozen. So, 10 cents per 12 ideas, times 1001 ideas… Actually, it’s worth more than that, because it’s a tool you use to generate your own ideas, as many as you want.

But I’m giving a copy of this ebook away for free to anyone who orders the How to Beat Writer’s Block audio course using the links below.
Exclusive Writer’s Tips e-Newsletter… FREE

Yes, I’ve posted numerous tips and tricks on BeTheStory.com. And I pop my head in from time to time at the online writer’s boards. But I reserve the best writer’s secrets I know, simply because it’s too much work to distill them into a usable form. But…

Now I’ve started an exclusive Writer’s Tips e-Newsletter, full of storytelling tips, tricks, secrets, and exclusive offers, delivered by email and only available to my customers. I created this it for people who order my writing resources. But I’m offering a free subscription to the Writer’s Tips e-Newsletter as part of this offer.

The e-Newsletter is delivered safely and conveniently by email. In these emails, you’ll discover:

7 storytelling goofs, and how to avoid them.

How to use personality profiles to improve your characters.

How neurological research can make you a better storyteller.

6 psychological triggers that are important to storytellers.

Why different people like different parts of the same story.

New products and special offers for writers.

… and more.

I like how it begins with claiming you can find thousands of character ideas FREE and the rest of it tries to sell a product. So does it sound like a scam? Yes. Does it sounds like a male enhancement ad? Yes. To be honest, it was the second thing that really made me wary of this claim. That and that it is an utter scam.

What a character is not

A character journal is a long list of character traits. Whenever you need an idea, you go to the journal, and it helps you find the right character trait.

A character isn’t a cobble together mess of personality traits. If your character is, frankly, your character is flat and cliche. Here are some of the “great” characters you might get out of picking some adjectives.

Tim is Shrewd, Timid, Zesty, and Boisterous
Kim is Courageous, Offensive, and Dim

Ah great, do you have a good feel for any of these “characters”? Probably not.

Oh, but according to the thing, this is because we forgot to give out characters a quirk from the big listing!

Tim is Shrewd, Timid, Zesty, and Boisterous. He doesn’t like the color purple.
Kim is Courageous, Offensive, and Dim. She sometimes picks her nose in public.

I can see them becoming more like people and less like a collection of words you got from a list! Do those quirks sound stupid? Does it seem like I’m unfairly setting up a strawman? Maybe his quirks are actually good. Let’s see.

Wowee. If we have:

Tim is Shrewd, Timid, Zesty, and Boisterous. Agrees quickly (by silence), but later comes to a different conclusion.

Tim still doesn’t sound like a real person, poor guy. You know, it’s because real people aren’t really defined this way. Think about your best friend. If your experiences are at all like mine, you know this person very well. How did you get to know your best friend? You probably didn’t have this exchange with him or her:

“So what is your personality like?”
“I’m pretty fiery, but I stand up for my friends.”
“What are your motivations?”
“I want to destroy the dark lord, because he killed my parents.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“Tall, but envies those who are short. (Or the reverse.)”

At one point or another, your friend might have explained something about their lives, but you already know them really well by that point. And what is it really that you observed to learn who a person was? Their actions, and the little details of who they are.

Using what is around you

So I’ll tell you a secret at this point. There actually is a magic box you can pull characters out of. This is: the world around you! Basically, just keep your eyes out for different kinds of people and observe them closely. You’ll see lots of character inspiration.

In a story, you never want to describe characters outright in terms of their personality traits. You describe your characters through their actions and their dialogue. So the best way to get these is actually to just steal them from the people you see around you. The girl at the coffee counter who is always sticking her hand in the change jar while glancing over her shoulder quickly. The guy constantly checking his watch, even though he isn’t walking in a hurry—so okay, that’s me. In particular, I keep a sharp eye out for strides. The girl bobbing her head to music, even though her iPod is nowhere to be seen, and the guy behind trying to pass her, because her bouncy gait is too slow for him. The way people walk can say a lot about them. It’s ingrained into the human brain—we can identify the weak, the confident, the sneaky, and the predatory by the way they walk. When writing short fiction, you have limited room to describe your characters, so you have to find details that pack a punch. Ultimately, I’m reminded again of Chekhov’s emphasis on little details. You don’t even need to fully describe a character, just demonstrate one thing about them that stands out, and the reader will remember them forever.


  1. Petunia on 6 October 2008, 01:48 said:

    This article is awesome. It really illustrates why writers should do what just about every (good) English teacher says: /show/, not tell.

    Nice job.

  2. ExitMouse on 6 October 2008, 01:54 said:

    Tim and Kim need alcohol to get through the working day.

  3. SlyShy on 6 October 2008, 02:01 said:

    Haha, Dwarf Fortress references… It’s kind of funny how DF tries to describe the dwarves, really.

  4. ExitMouse on 6 October 2008, 02:44 said:

    But your descriptions sounded like that, that’s my point. DF descriptions are meaningless, and so are these.

  5. SlyShy on 6 October 2008, 02:56 said:

    Right, exactly, that was my point too. :P

  6. Virgil on 6 October 2008, 08:08 said:

    Thanks Sly, good article. I felt a little wary when I saw the FREE.

  7. Snow White Queen on 7 October 2008, 22:29 said:

    haha, the scam part threw me off…but the real article was gold!