How to Create a Character for Your Story or Novel | Julia Gousseva | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

How to Create a Character for Your Story or Novel

teacher avatar Julia Gousseva, Writer, Creative Writing Teacher

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

15 Lessons (24m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Basics

    • 3. Dominant Impression

    • 4. Five Traits

    • 5. Appearance

    • 6. Ability

    • 7. Speech

    • 8. Mannerism

    • 9. Attitude

    • 10. From Protagonist to Hero

    • 11. Adding Complexity

    • 12. Conflicting Desires

    • 13. Character Flaw

    • 14. Summing Up

    • 15. Conclusion

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

Do you want to create compelling, dynamic characters for your short stories, novels, or memoirs but don't know where to start? Or have you started writing but realized your characters are one-dimensional or not very interesting? 

This short class will show you how to develop a character from a stick figure to a real person with unique attitudes, abilities, mannerisms, flaws, and special qualities your readers will relate to and admire.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Julia Gousseva

Writer, Creative Writing Teacher


Julia Gousseva

Writer, Creative Writing Teacher

How to Write an Original Short Story

Have you always wanted to write fiction but don’t know where to start? Have you started writing but got stuck and don’t know how to finish? Do you have ideas but find it hard to develop them into a complete story that makes sense? Or do you experience writer's block, get stuck, and lose motivation?

If you have experienced any of these problems or if you simply want a clear and specific way to develop your idea into a story, you’re in the right place.
This course will present an approach to writing stories that I have developed over a number of years and refined with my students in face-to-face classes.

This approach is a step... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: welcome to the class of character development. A lot of times, people argue, which are better stories, lot driven or character driven. I think you need to have both. You need to have an exciting plot and they need to have an interesting character. And so they were going to focus on character, a character that can make exciting things happen and can create that exciting flock. This class will be useful to you. If you're writing a short story or a novel, you can use these steps to develop. You mean character and your secondary character. Don't forget about secondary characters. They should be realistic. They should be believable. That shouldn't just cardboard cutouts. This class is also useful. If you're writing a memoir or a life story, you're not going to be making up those characters. You're gonna base a force your characters under your people. However, this class will be helpful in the help helping you decide what characteristics the focus on as you translate those real people into characters on the page. If you're rising Avila, this class will be of limited use to you while villains air still do people, of course, and they do need to be multi dimensional. Some of the tips will be useful. But I'm not focusing specifically on villains in this class. There in the class off their old literally next class, uh, post will be on the crazy, believable. An interesting villain. But not this time. Your projects for this class will be a cure to development, of course. And I posted the document called Character Development Page that you can download insulin with information about your character. All right, let's get started. 2. The Basics: creating a character is one of the most exciting things that we do is writers, but it can also be intimidating. How do you start with a blank page and end up with a character who feels acts, looks like a real person and that your leaders will care about. So in this class, we're gonna take it step by step. We're going to make it easy, and by the end of it, you should have a well developed in an interesting character that you can use in your story . We'll start with very simple things, like joining stick figure. Who is your character? Is it the man? Is it the woman? Is that the child? Maybe an animal, especially if you're doing their Children's book? Or maybe it's some other creature. So the decision is not too hard, right? So we can make that and then starts filling it in. The first question is, what does your character care about? And we're gonna define care as a feeling that something is important for that character. And let's look at a few examples. Maybe you have a character. Let's say he's a man and he is very orderly. His need and clean. He, uh, always washes dishes. He cleans his counters five step five times a day. He piles his papers very neatly. So everything is organized, right? And then she falls in love with a woman, and she's with issues. Beautiful. He loves her very much. But what this doesn't realize until after they get married is that she's a bit of a slob, and for a while, his love and the overcomes up his desire for order. But after a while, he feels, and maybe he didn't realize it before. He feels that the fact that she's leaving the dishes in the sink and their crumbs all over the table and maybe her shoes, he is always stepping over them. And there's a close on the couches, so it's really bothering him. How is he going to deal with that? If his whole life was focused on this order and neatness, and suddenly he is confronted with this slob of a wife whom he loves, It's an interesting dilemma there, Or they could be, Of course, every everybody wants to survive, right? It's an instinct, but there could be a conflict between life or survival and dignity. Some people may prefer death to living in captivity or to living a life that's not dignified. So that could be an interesting idea to explore. What does a character care about more life and survival or dignity, or going to more every day? Topics? What if all the character cares is money cares about's money? And it doesn't matter if the character is, Ah, I don't know it. Poor kids somewhere the slums who's selling crack cocaine on the street? Or he's a middle aged, well educated stockbroker who is manipulating the stock market for profit. So both of these characters could equally care about money and the driven by money in their life. Or let's see, we have a woman, maybe young girl first, who really wants to get her father's love. But he doesn't care about her or he may be. He wanted the sun, or he doesn't think she's good enough, not up to his standards. So when she grows up, she still craving that love. But at this point, she's out of the family, and maybe she's looking for love off any older guy, and that could leave too quite difficult circumstances for her, so curing quality is a stance that somebody lives by the two character lives by. So to recap off, when the introducing character, you should present character labels to your readers so the reader can identify the character, starting with the basics. Oh, the gender, the age, the job. That's important because a lot of people identify themselves with their jobs. That's important to include. And then there's, ah, concept of dominant impression, and it's an interesting concept that we're going to explore in the next lesson. 3. Dominant Impression: So what is a dominant depression? It's still one of the labels, so it's quite superficial. But it's something that helps us remember a character by and something that will help your readers remember your character by. So, for example, let's say you're the party and you were talking to a bunch of people and later the friend you went to the party with says, Do you remember this guy Mark with Doctor would talk to and he can't remember this guy. And then your friend says, Well, remember Mark. He was that loud, obnoxious man who used to be a real estate agent. And suddenly you remember right, because your friend gave you this dominant impression that you had at the moment. Or, let's say, Ah, you are looking at somebody in the way you remember them is an introverted chess player who likes to wear purple shoes. Obviously, this person is more than just a chess player, but this is the impression you're getting about the person before you get to know them toe world, right? So that's dominant impression. Or let's look at the couple of more examples a sloppy waitress war, a friendly cop and with this one lets the little mind exercise. So imagine that you know this cop, right? And this guy's always friendly. So you create an image in your mind off this person, right? And then we're just gonna change one descriptor. What if it's worried, cop, and suddenly you have a different person in line, right? Or how about wisecracking cop? So again that that's another impression in another person. So the dominant impression is important. It's not everything there is to know about the character, but it's the beginning, right? We're entering into character's personality through the dominant impression. 4. Five Traits: have a good start or character development, but we need to look a lot deeper into our characters so that they are presented story. There's as real people in the next few lessons. We're going to look at five very interesting characteristics off your character. They are appearance, ability, speech, mannerism and attitude. 5. Appearance: When you describe your character's appearance, don't feel like you have to describe everything about about them from height and weight, and I color shoe size with a needle of this What you need. It's probably 2 to 3 defining features that will help your readers identify that character every time that character steps on the page or into a scene. So what kind of features are we talking about? Maybe a shaved head, Maybe there a chain smoker. And every time they appear, they have a cigarette in their mouth. Maybe they're fashionable and the they like to wear bright scarves so you could describe that bright scarf every time you character appears in the scene. Maybe a wide start starts tat. Maybe long red hair. Of course, these are just examples, but you get the idea, so focus on something that's unique about your character. And just a couple of features would be enough to describe that character's appearance 6. Ability: next, we're going to talk about ability. And what's important with deciding what ability you want to use for your character is to choose one that your story calls for what they mean by that. For example, if there's a medical emergency in your story later, the story, then an earlier scene should show you character as heaven am to training. Or maybe they're graduating from the MT. School and later on their encountered with that medical emergency. Or maybe they have bomb making skills that coming hands later on or hairdressing experience . Or they have photographic memories again mentioned early in the story, maybe a couple of times. And then when the defining moment comes, let them use those skills. Maybe they have navigation skills. You don't want your character to be stuck in the middle of the ocean. Everybody Hispanic and some. Suddenly they say, Oh, by the way, did I mention them? A navigator that is not going to be believable for your characters? So include those skills, that ability earlier in this story, and then later, when it comes in handy, then it makes the story more believable. 7. Speech: A lot of writers have a natural tendency to create characters that are like them, and they talk like them, and that's a problem. If I did that, then all my characters would have Russian accent, and that wouldn't be right, because not all of the need it. So to focus on speech and to create your character, I would suggest that you find a habitual phrase, maybe a phrase like awesome or award dude in a jiffy, a phrase that you character uses all the time. And that way that phrase will become associate with the character, and your readers will be able to identify the character. Or maybe they do have an accent. But don't spell things out phonetically. Just use a word or two. Ah, and the use it sparingly so your readers don't have trouble reading your texts. Or maybe professional jargon. If you have a cop on the story, he or she is going to be saying the perp not perpetrator. Or maybe you have an older character or a character who was raised by their grandparents, and they could be using old fashioned expressions. Or they could be using modern sling. So speech is important as you're creating your character, think about how does your character speak and why do they speak that way? 8. Mannerism: next future is mannerism. You can think about it as a habit that somebody has. For example, I used to work for an engineering company, and my boss would always throw diagrams and throw a little charts when he talked. So when he would say, Let me explain, everybody knew he's going to reach for for a pen and paper and start drawing things so your character could doodle when he talks, right? That's a mannerism. Or maybe she could play with her hair. Or he could always do gathering papers into piles on his desk. He could be rubbing his chin. Or she could be biting her lip. Saw these or mannerisms that will help your readers see your character and see little quirks that we all have and how these quirks relate to your character. 9. Attitude: take a look at the illustration at the bottom of the slide. We have one person who is passive, one whose assertive one who is aggressive and that probably is their attitude in their whole life. Whenever they do something, they tend to default to this attitude. If you think about Mary Poppins, what would be her attitude, optimism and cheerfulness? Right, so your character could be like that, always optimistic, always cheerful, more. They could be pessimistic, or they could be a sexist or racist. And those attitudes would define their actions and with the finder decisions. Or maybe they're always suspicion, suspicious, right or always anxious. There could be a number of other attitudes as well. So again, attitude is something that defines the default way that your characters react the most situations. 10. From Protagonist to Hero: So far, we've been talking about different characteristics off a character that could apply both to a hero or villain for the remainder of this class. I'm going to focus on creating a hero, not a villain, and we're going to have a separate class on Macon. Interesting villains. But for now, let's think about your protagonist becoming a hero. And some things people say, Well, my protagonist is going to do something heroic by the middle of the book, but your readers need to care about your character from the very, very beginning. So you need to come up with some heroic qualities or some qualities that you readers can admire and like, they need to have something to like about your character from the very beginning. So how do you do that? I have a little exercise for you who are your personal heroes, and it doesn't have to be a superhero from a comic book. It doesn't have to be a war hero. It could be somebody next to you. Could be a relative. Could be your mom, your spouse, your child. Right down. Just one specific name off that personal hero. All right, you got it. what makes this person a hero? I don't want specific quality. It could be patients, right? It could be curing. It could be love. It could be self sacrifice. Could be all kinds of different things, but right down, just one specific quality right of your personal hero. And then what I'd like it to Dio is identify a specific moment when you realized that person had that specific quality, right, that quality that you admire, what was that moment? Think about it. This is a specific moment, specific scene and write it down and then assigned it quality to your protagonist and write a scene in which the character shows that quality and make that your opening scene. That way, your readers will be able to cure about the character from the very beginning and see that he or she has a potential to become a hero. Later in the story 11. Adding Complexity: one challenge when creating a hero is not to create a person who seems unbelievable, who's so perfect that we can't imagine that a person like that would exist in real life. And that's why we need to add complexity to your character. And there's a specific way to do it. Let's try one. What is your characters? Dominant quality. And you can use one from the last exercise. Let's say it's patients, so we're going to write down patients. What is the opposite quality? Well, the opposite of patients is impatience. That's pretty easy. So we're going to say it's impatience and then we're going to write a paragraph or a scene . Where there are character demonstrates that impatience that opposite quality. So that will make the character more riel more multidimensional and not so perfect that the readers are not going to believe you. Once you're done with that, you can add even more complexity. How do you do that? You're gonna pick your characters secondary quality. And maybe it's love, right? Your character has a lot of love for people. We can write that down. What's the opposite of love? Well, that would be hatred. Is there a moment. Is there a scene where your character demonstrates that quality? Probably. So. If you can write it down, then you will take one more step to creating a more interesting, a deeper character. 12. Conflicting Desires: conflicting desires, and creating the such conflicting desires is a tool that can help you build inattention and inner conflict in your character and make your story more interesting. So how do you do that? Let's ask the first question. What does your character want the most? Maybe a character is a young person, and he or she wants to leave. Let's say their farm, their family farm in Maine, and they want to experience the excitement of bigger cities in life outside that farm. And the opposite desire would be to stay on the farm, right? So why do they want to stay on the farm? While what draws them is, maybe they need to take care of their younger siblings. Maybe they want financial security. Maybe there's another reason why they want to stay at that farm. So I understand that they want both at once, right? They want experience, adventure, yet they have the duty to care for their siblings, or they wanted adventure, that excitement. But they're concerned about their financial situation, and you can think about the causes behind those conflict and desires and what the character can too, to pursue of these opposite wishes. are conflicting desires. And the makers three more interesting make these desires mutually exclusive. In my case, the character cannot stay at the farm and leave the farm at the same time. Right? Some of your examples might be more complicated. So think about how can you ensure that if he fulfills one desire, he cannot get the other. 13. Character Flaw: The last aspect of character development we're going to discuss today is a character flaw, and it should be a personal problem about habit. The blind spot, something that makes them human but doesn't overwhelm the story and doesn't turn your character into a villain or into somebody negative. It's a personal problem. Maybe they're so busy it work. They tend to neglect their Children. Or maybe a bad habit they have is they drink too much coffee or they're addicted. The monster drinks or their chain small smoker or they have a blind spot. Maybe they don't realize when they get excited about the topic. They talk so much that nobody else can participate. So anything that makes you your hero human but still keeps them positive. Adding self awareness or a sense of humor always helps, because that will help you prevent this flaw from taking over the entire story. 14. Summing Up: We discussed a lot of different things you can do to create a character from a stick figure to a real person. And let's do a brief summary. What did we talk about? Was started with the discussing stands that you character lives by, which is the main defining principle in their life, Right? The driving force. We talked about character labels such as Gender, age, job and Dominant Impression. We talked about the five traits of your character appearance, ability, speech, mannerism in attitude. We also looked at the hero equality that you should have your character exhibit from the very beginning of your story from the very first pages. That way, your readers will care about your characters as much as you do. We talked about dominant and opposing qualities to make a character less perfect, so they're not a cartoon hero, but a real person. We talked about conflicting desires that will make a character's journey more interesting, and we talked about a small but important flaw that again will make a character more believable and maybe even more likable. So after all these exercises, you know how to take a stick figure and turn it figure in 30 ill person, and that's very interesting and probably before we leave we need a little bit of inspiration from one of the greatest writers of all times. Let's take a look at this wonderful quote by William Faulkner. It begins with the character usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil, trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does. And I hope that inspires you to create your character and follow him on his or her. On their journey through your story, I look forward to seeing your characters catches in the project gallery. 15. Conclusion: regulations. You finish the class director. Development is complicated and challenging, but it's also very exciting. And I hope this class gave you some initial ideas on how to get started with development of the character that your readers will be interested in, and the sample night reading about a police, download the character development page from the project area and then the Philippines and post that your character trades. You care to development ideas in the project gallery. I look forward to reading your work and thank you for listening for my class. I hope you found it useful.