Instinctive Characterization

How do you create characters? Some people do interviews or questionnaires, others just sit down and write, letting the story unfold. Some people use astrology or other methods.

Often, the first time I see one of my characters is in a scene playing out in my head. Action is taking place, characters are talking, certain emotions are involved. I have a vague idea of setting and atmosphere. I’m usually able to catch a glimpse of the character at least. Perhaps I can’t even see the color of his eyes yet, but I sense his mood and facial expression. This is like the germ of a story idea and character.

When you do something instinctively, you do it naturally. It’s something that comes from within you. It isn’t something you force with your autocratic rational side. I’ve tried to force my characters to come into existence or to be a certain thing, and I know it doesn’t work. (At least for me it doesn’t.) In my experience, a stubborn character will only become more stubborn if you try to force him into a mold he can’t fit into. Like your mom trying to make you take piano lessons when you hate piano.

A character comes from your own psyche. Likely there will be some tiny trait from your personality in your character. In many ways, a character is an extension of you. And you need to understand your character from the inside out. You need to know your character down to his soul. The only way to dig down that deeply is to let things unfold naturally, instinctively. Your subconscious needs to get in on the process. That’s when your character and your story will “feel” right. That’s when your character will feel real.

How do you develop your characters and get to know them? Do you have a specific method or technique? Do all of them pop into your head fully formed or are some of them stubborn? If so what do you do to coax them out?

The above post is an excerpt from a workshop I’ll be teaching on characterization starting June 1.

Workshop - Instinctive Characterization: How to Create Sexy Heroes and the Strong Heroines Who Love Them
Instructor: Nicole North

Date: June 1 - 30

Fee: $25

The romance genre is primarily character driven and those characters need to feel as real as you or I. How do you create characters the reader will fall in love with? If characters don't magically pop into your head fully-formed and three-dimensional, how do you help them come to life without forcing them to be someone they're not? We'll use several tools and methods to develop characters instinctively including:

How to use GMC (goals, motivation and conflict) to create active characters
Discovering and using our character’s backstory
How do you make characters empathetic and likable?
What is a great (real life) personality test to use for character development?
How do you use archetypes?
What is a fatal flaw?
Characters and conflict
Characters and deep POV
What makes a hero sexy and a heroine strong?
Describing and naming characters
...and more

This is a new, interactive online workshop with exercises and critique/ feedback from the instructor. It is a private workshop held in a yahoo group. The lessons will come to your email inbox.

To register or read past student testimonials about my other workshops please visit my website and click on "workshops" on the menu:

About the presenter: Nicole North writes sensual and erotic romance novels and novellas. She is the author of paranormal erotic romance novellas Beast in a Kilt, Red Sage Secrets Volume 29, Indulge Your Fantasies, July 2010; Devil in a Kilt, Red Sage Secrets Volume 27 Untamed Pleasures, July 2009; and Kilted Lover, Red Sage, November 2009. She has finaled in over a dozen writing competitions and won several awards. Reviewers have said her stories contain "heart and heat, killer love scenes, magic and extraordinary characters." She has a BA degree in psychology but writing romance is her first love.

To register, please visit and click on "workshops."
Or email: nicole (at)
Thank you!!

P.S. I donated a copy of each of my anthologies to Brenda Novak's Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. Please click to check them out or bid:

Secrets Volume 29 (due out July 1)



Natasha Moore said...

Great post, Nicole. My characters tend to reveal themselves to me during the writing process. Makes the beginning slow going, but I've found it's more productive than filling out character charts, etc.

Carly Carson said...

My characters reveal themselves through dialogue. If I listen carefully, it becomes clear what the character would and would not say. Also, as I develop the backstory, it's like a photograph developing and coming into clearer focus (if anyone actually remembers Polaroid pictures any more!) Since the backstory has to form a foundation for the hero's journey, it must provide clues to the type of person who would take that journey.

Danica Avet said...

Wonderful post, Nicole! My characters usually start off as a voice in my head. It could be them talking to someone else, or them thinking to themselves, but whatever it is, they attract me and I want to know more about them.

Nicole North said...

Natasha, thanks! That is a great process. That's one reason I find writing a whole rough draft first helpful, instead of polishing as I go.

Carly, absolutely. Dialogue is a fantastic way to learn more about characters.

Danica, thanks! That happens to me too. I hear them talking first.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

You ask a good question, but it's one I can't answer. I don't know where my characters come from, they are just there talking freely and giving me great ideas on how to make them into heroes and heroines. They are real to me. I talk to them and they answer back. When I write them doing something they don't like, they stop talking and nothing brings them back until I fix the problem. It's a game we play. I do find Phantom of the Opera music usually at least gets them talking again.

Your workshop sounds like something I would like. An author I adore told me one time that I have great instinct and to never let it fail me. :)

Anita Clenney said...

I get a vague glimpse of my characters that grows clearer as I go. I know key things about their personalities and their past, what hardships or events have formed them. I always know a lot about their backstory before I start writing. Sometimes I forget the color of their eyes, so I have to lodge it firmly in my head. And I have found that interviews can reveal things that I wasn't aware of until a question is posed.

Nicole North said...

Paisley, Thanks! Sounds like you have worked out a great method for yourself. And I hope you enjoy the workshop and find it helpful.

Anita, that's fantastic that you know so much about your characters and their backstories before you start. I know sometimes I have to ask my characters questions. Not necessarily a form full of questions, but questions specific to them and why they behave as they do.

Maeve Greyson said...

Great post, Nicole. Sometimes my characters reveal themselves in my dreams. But I've noticed that if I really want to "nudge" my muse into a certain direction, different types of background music seems to help. I've definitely learned they can't be forced or I end up with chapters full of uncomfortable dialogue. ;)

Nicole North said...

Thanks Maeve! I agree. Music can be really inspiring in the characterization area.

Pat McDermott said...

I have a writing friend who bases her characters loosely on people she knows. I write to escape real life, so my characters always appear as a plot unfolds in my mind. The main characters anchor the story, but some members of the are required to help move the plot along. These should be minor characters, but they often demand a bigger role. They get it, of course. :-) Neat synopsis of the process, Nicole. Good luck with your class!

Nicole North said...

Thanks Pat! That is interesting to base all characters on people. I only do that rarely. I love it when minor characters instantly come to life and later demand a story of their own. :)

Carole St-Laurent said...

Great post, Nicole, and good questions. Usually my heroes appear in the back of my mind and work their way up front. By the time I see them up close, they're bigger than life, strong and perfect. Then, I have to work hard for them to have some flaws!