Creating characters is hard. Creating memorable characters is almost impossible.
I’ve noticed that every character in my first story looks, acts, and sounds very similar. They have slightly different physical descriptions, but those are so run-of-the-mill that you immediately forget them.
The best advice I’ve seen so far on creating memorable characters is from Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat.
He writes: “In a good script, every character must speak differently. Every character must have a unique way of saying even the most mundane ‘Hi How are you I’m fine ‘kind of chat.”
Similarly, he suggests making sure there’s something different or memorable about every character’s appearance.
Plus, characters need to have their own internal motivations for doing things. They can’t just go around helping or hindering the protagonist for no good reason whatsoever.
According to Snyder, those motivations should have some kind of underlying primal component, such as staying alive, or finding a romantic partner, or protecting your children.
Other novel guides I’ve seen require even more attention paid to characters. Back stories, character arcs, likes and dislikes.
The first fiction story I wrote, I skipped all of that because it seemed impossible. I could barely come up with names.
Over the course of this past month, however, I’ve discovered a number of online tools that make it a lot easier to create characters. Plus, they’re fun. And even if you don’t go with their suggestions, they help spark creativity. “No, I don’t want to make them scared of dogs, but making them scared of cats — that could fit in well with my story, and would be fun to write.”
Here are my favorite ones, so far, at least. I’ll be updating this as I get more experience working with these kinds of tools.
Whenever I start writing, this is the first obstacle I hit. What should I name my characters? Do I just default to a description, like “the artist” or “the little girl” and fill in the name later? But then it always hangs over me, and the farther I get into the story, the more difficult this is to fix. But if I start researching possible names, say, by considering combing names of appropriate historical figures, or checking baby name sites, that takes me down an endless hole of research. I can spend a whole day picking out the perfect name, get no writing done, and still be unhappy at the end.
That’s where name generators come in. You pick the kind of name you want, and they give you a bunch of random selections. You don’t like any of them, hit the “next” button. Usually, I find something I like on the first couple of tries, or, at least, I find something that gives me an idea. Later on, if I decide to change the name, I can always do a global-search-and-replace and go with something else.
Meanwhile, it just takes a few seconds to pick something good enough.
Best regular name generator: Behind the Name Random Name Generator
Choose a gender, or no gender, whether you want a middle name or not, country of origin, whether you want to avoid rare names, and a couple of other options — including a randomly-generated life story — and click on “Generate a Name!” You can also have it generate hippy names, fairy names, or names from various mythologies.
Best fantasy name generator: Fantasy Name Generators
I love this site. It’s a little harder to navigate than the first one I suggested, so it’s not my first stop for a regular name, but it has an amazing variety of name generators. Dozens of different types of fantasy names, place names, company names, guild names, race names — it’s well worth wandering around the site and bookmarking the most useful tools. A lot of it seems to be designed for game masters running D&D-style roleplaying games, but much can also be applied to fiction writing. I’ve found that even if I can’t find something that I can use as is, it will often spark an idea that leads in an interesting direction.
Best speech quirk generator: Springhole Character Speech Feature Generator
I love the variety of suggestions here, to either use as-is, or as a launching point for my own ideas.
Some examples: “Your character’s speech is sprinkled with job-related terms” and “Your character often uses mild profanity” and “‘No way’ is frequently uttered by your character.”
Springhole, like the Fantasy Name Generator site, has a lot of different generators to help create backstories, relationships, flaws and weaknesses, interests, fashion styles, motivations, and weird things like scars and amputations. Again, well worth exploring and bookmarking the ones you might want to use later.
Best behavioral quirk generator: Springhole Random Character Quirk Generator
Examples include “Your character is prone to eating when stressed” and “Your character often tries to figure out how things could be run more effectively” and “Your character is prone to spacing out.”
Best appearance quirk generator: RanGen Character Traits and Quirks
The RanGen also has a very large number of generators, covering names, plots, worlds, motivations, and a lot more.
I like this particular generator for its appearance suggestions.
Some examples are “Has a lot of body hair,” “Doesn’t wear shoes or socks,” “Has multiple body piercings,” “Has a missing tooth,” and “Wears glasses but doesn’t need them.”
For the main characters, the motivations are driven by the story. The detective wants to solve the crime, the murderer wants to get away with it. They can’t both win, and thus there’s the conflict that drives the story.
But minor and supporting characters need their own motivations too, so they aren’t doing things at random or just to serve the story. They need to have their own reasons for the things that they do.
Best character motivation generator: Springhole Character Motivation Generator
The other two generator sites have motivation generators as well, but I like the Springhole one because the suggestions are general enough to apply to almost any kind of writing but specific enough to let the characters stand out.
Some suggestions include “Your character badly wants to find a place to belong,” “Your character wants to atone for previous wrongdoings,” and “Your character wants to overthrow the government.”
And per Snyder, I’d add a primal component to these motivations for the more important characters. Such as “… to protect their loved ones,” or “… in order to win the respect of their family” or “… to get revenge on a great injustice.”
Do you have any suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!