Reading and Literacy, Writing

How to Bring Fictional Characters to Life

How to Bring Fictional Characters to Life

To create characters that seem real, encourage students to study people. Think about people they know. They can use their insight into these people to give characters life. A memorable character also deserves a memorable name, but here are examples of traits to create personality.

A defect or flaw
We believe the March sisters in Little Women and like them more for their imperfections. For example, Jo’s temper and outspokenness.

Naughty Max in Where the Wild Things Are is sent to bed with no supper. Max feels so angry that his bedroom turns into a jungle, the walls dissolve, and he makes for a sailing boat on the ocean.

Friends and relatives
Eleven-year-old Anne Shirley is adopted by the elderly brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert in Road to Avonlea.

Ten-year-old Harry Potter desires to live with his parents.

Habits and quirks
Alice in Wonderland has a hookah-smoking caterpillar, a duchess who gives her baby pepper and calls it a pig, a cat that disappears, and a mad hatter.

In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Mr. McGregor is the vegetable gardener.

Physical Characteristics
In Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, Jacob Two-Two is small and quiet, so he has to say everything twice to be heard over his brothers and sisters.


A ring can be handed down many generations, like a wedding ring.

Your main character (the protagonist) must want something. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants to get back to Kansas when a cyclone drops her and Toto in the land of Munchkins.

In The Secret Garden, who can hear Mary crying in the night?

Dr. Dolittle can talk to animals. Mary Poppins can slide up banisters and float in the air. Rumpelstiltskin can spin straw into gold.

The kindness of three old women in A Wrinkle in Time and a horse’s bravery, goodness, and patience in Black Beauty.

Show your characters in action. Use action to dramatize personality traits. Instead of describing your character as angry, show the character acting angrily.

The preceding was adapted from How Bullets Saved My Life by Judy Green, published by Pembroke Publishers