On Building Characters’ Lives

Anonymous asked: “Hi Lizard. I don’t know how to create friends and family for my main character… I mean it’s only her and her boyfriend but everyone else is nada. Please help me?”

If you had asked me this a few years ago, I might have said friends and family don’t really matter all that much, but the thing is now, I don’t believe that’s at all true. I think the difference is now I’m pretty sure I know why. 

When a character is around their friends and family, you are actually not just getting a load of information about other characters that may never come up again, but you’re getting information on who the main character is – as a friend, as a sibling, as a son or daughter – these things tell you who this person is. 

If you haven’t yet included friends or family, there’s a chance that you don’t know this character as well as you could. (I’m not going to claim that you don’t, I can’t know that and I also know family and history isn’t essential for every book, but family and friends will tell you who a character is and inform their identity.) 

When it comes to building out friends and family, details will matter. Do they live in a city or a small town? In an apartment, townhouse, mobile home, a McMansion? What about money – what do their parents do for a living? Are they successful? Modest or flashy? Are they happy? Do their parents live together? What about siblings? How many, who are they, and what are their ages? 

And what about friends? Are their friends from school, work, the gym? Where do they go for fun? What kind of things do they do together? What kind of first impressions do they make on strangers? 

The more you think about these things the more fleshed out they will be. Even if you want your character to seem “normal” or “ordinary” there is no exact “ordinary” so you will need to build a point of reference, what does “ordinary” look like to you? It won’t look like that for everyone. 

Another technique I’m sharing today is brought to you by my friend, Natalie. She says, “ Take a look around at your friends and family.  Look at the relationships you have with them. Make a list if you have to and then look at your character and what kinds of relationships that you would like for them to have that compare to your own. It’s okay for characters to not really have many friends. You don’t even have to include all of the character’s friends because it can become overwhelming, but for family, it’s a little easier.  I always recommend looking at what you know first before writing the character.” 

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