Characters: How to Write Them & Why We Love Them

8 days until Jot. Excited yet? Thought so.

Today’s post highlights another presenter at Jot, Susie Finkbeiner. Susie has published two novels with WhiteFire Publishing the most recent being My Mothers Chamomile. Being something of a character aficionado, Susie will be share advice on how to create characters our readers may never forget.


susie head shotWe’ve all found characters who seemed so real to us that we loved them, mourned with them, maybe even prayed for them. How do writers create such authentic characters? Susie will offer practical ways for writers of both fiction and non-fiction to write true to live, flesh and blood characters.

It is obvious by your prose and the topic of your presentation that you love characters. Tell us, have you ever had a character speak so loudly that you had to create a story for them?

Really, that was how Paint Chips came into existence. I had a character who was deeply troubled, I just didn’t know why. She suffered extreme anxiety and a fierce fear that something terrible was going to happen to her daughter, the only person she had left. That character came with a name. It was Cora. To be honest, at first I didn’t like her at all. But the more I got to know her, the more I felt compassion for her. The more I realized that she’s a lot like me in some ways. I came to really love Cora. That’s why I gave her a whole novel.

Characters always seem to be hollering at me. If we weren’t all writers, I’m afraid you’d make assumptions about my mental health. However, as writers, we understand that hearing our characters is a good thing. A sign that things are working correctly.

Writing characters can be tough. Each one has their own motivation, history, and may even be from different parts of the world. What process do you use to keep them all straight?

I’m not sure if you know this, but I have twins. They’re five and look an awful lot alike. They aren’t identical, but they sure are close. I get the question all the time, “How do you tell them apart?”. My answer, “Because I’m their mom. I know.”

I think it’s the same for my characters. I’m their author. I know that one likes chocolate and the other doesn’t. I know their favorite songs and colors and animals. I know their deepest longings and worst fears.

I know because, well, I just do. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you learn these things. Authors spend an enormous amount of time with their characters.

A lot of the characters authors put into their stories have entirely different experiences than we do. What are practical ways that you have gotten to know your characters in order to write them?

Ah, yes. This is a great question. Writers live so many different lives, don’t we? We have to be observers of human behavior. People watching in the grocery store, eavesdropping at the coffee shop, getting to know a variety of folks who aren’t like us. I’ve also spent a good amount of time reading and researching different cultures and circumstances in which people find themselves. Sometimes it’s a lot like being a spy.

You’ve been reading a lot of books lately. Name one of the authors, that you’ve recently read, who writes unforgettable characters. Why are they so hard to forget?

One author? Goodness. This is a toughie, you know that, right?

I’m going to have to say that Kent Haruf has written some unforgettable characters. They are raw and rough around the edges. They suffer deeply and enjoy small joys. I think the reason they’re so memorable is the way Haruf causes the reader to really feel for the characters. You might hate them, you might love them. You might want to shake them or slap them. Maybe even hug them. But you feel for them. It’s hard to forget someone, even fictional, when you develop feelings for them.

You’ve been writing for several years. What are a few practical steps writers can take to create better characters?

-Read. Read. Read. Discover how other authors develop characters. Read the dialogue out loud so you can hear how they make them speak. Take notes on what you like/dislike about the characters. Read. And remember to read.

-Have a notebook with you at all times. When you see someone who might be a good character, write about them. Trust me, you’ll want that notebook. If you think you’ll remember, you deceive yourself. You’ll forget the way the person blinks four times fast in a row or snaps at their children in the olive aisle.

-The rest of the golden nuggets will be part of my talk on March 14. I hope to see a lot of writer friends there!

Thanks Susie!

If you’d like to connect with Susie you can –

If you have questions for Susie, please post them below or save them for when you see her at Jot next Friday March 14th at 7pm!

2 thoughts on “Characters: How to Write Them & Why We Love Them

  1. Pingback: Part-Time Novel | Jot Interview Susie Finkbeiner On Characters

  2. Pingback: The Jot Conference Happens Tomorrow Night | Josh Mosey | Writer

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