Thursday, October 18, 2012

Character Creation: The Stuff 'n Remove Method

By Lydia Kang

Hey guys! So today I'm going to discuss how I make my characters. I'm a plotter and pantser (plot the story; pants the scenes) so I tend to prepare a lot beforehand. But that doesn't mean my characters are like the goddess Venus, fully formed and spat out into the world via sea foam.


First, I start with character worksheets. You can find a bunch of them online, such as this one from Adventures in Children's Publishing. I usually print one or two out, and start imagining.

So, my process is kind of like this.

Start with the physical.

But that's all the outside. Inside, she's marshmallow fluff. Nothing much. So I make some insides.

What she likes, what she doesn't like. Quirks. Habits. Things she says when she gets mad. Her character arc--how she changes from the beginning to the end of the book. Things that I may never, ever use in the book, but are necessary for getting to know her.

Then I write. And write. And revise. And this happens:

The character arc changes. Personality changes. Appearances change. And in the end, I get...

wait for it....


That's right. A BLUE HEDGEHOG.
I know, dramatic illustration, but my point is (Sharp! Like a hedgehog!)... No seriously. Often, 
my character can be quite different from what I originally conceived.

But that's my process. It's pretty dynamic.

How about you? How do you create your characters?


Lydia Kang is a writer, part-time doctor, and salt-addicted gal with a near-pathological need to doodle.  Her YA sci-fi book, CONTROL, is coming December 2013 (Dial Books for Young Readers).

Find her on Twitter, her blog The Word Is My Oyster, Goodreads, Facebook, and Pinterest


  1. Awesome Lydia. I loved learning more how you create characters. So far, I don't use worksheets but I try to keep some of the things you mention in my head as I write.

  2. I would love to end up with a blue hedgehog with a pink scarf! yay! Take care

  3. From fluffy to hedgehog - that is quite a change!

  4. Interesting how we can start with one thing and end up with something far different after a bit - ahem, a lot - of tweaking.

    I got lucky with a character I'm working with now. I'm using characteristics of my Chipmunk so if I'm not too sure, I can pause a scene and ask her some questions. I haven't had to do that yet, but I'm sure when I do, the answers will probably be completely unrelated to what I actually asked...yeah lol!

  5. I don't LOL, but this made me laugh heartily. Great process. In fact, I'd like to use some of it next week in one of my classes~

  6. Great post, Lydia! Those characters often change on us. They have minds of their own!

  7. I totally guessed it was going to be a blue hedgehog... not really! That was nicely timed surprise.

    Moody Writing

  8. I love this! Can't say that my process is the same, but you know, I will be thinking in a totally different way from now on. Thanks for sharing this, Lydia! :)

  9. I loved the cartoons, especially the hedgehog. Sooo cute.

  10. Hah! I always love your cartoons. My process is freakishly similar... sans the hedgehog. ;)

  11. Interesting! I never thought to do it that way.

  12. I like to plot the stories, but I totally pants the characters. They tend to get molded as the story develops, then I ask them questions and see what they say. They always surprise me :)

  13. Your cartoons just made my day!

    Great process, although now I'm thinking you should do cartoons for all your characters. (Might not help you, but it would be highly entertaining for us!)

  14. Oh, that hedgehog is so darn cute. I agree with Stephanie--I want to see more characters!

    I do this process opposite from you. I just start writing the book and I stop as I get to know characters and add their stuff in a character traits document (quirks, character arc, mannerisms). It's good, so I don't make every character raise an eyebrow or whatever.

  15. LOL...loved it. I spoke to a book club the other night and was asked about characters and I had the same answer, only in a less fun way!

  16. Hilarious! Thanks for the link on twitter.

  17. Haha! I've never seen the process quite so... literally before. Love the visuals!

  18. This is an amazing process. The character starts off as soft and huggable Raggedy Ann and, through evolution and literary (as opposed to bio-) engineering, eventually becomes badass Sonic the Hedgehog. Bravo!

  19. I find character profiles the most grueling part of the whole business. Making up an entire person from inside to out is exhausting but I can never start any long term project without doing it. I never should too. It's essential to the process.


  20. "plot the story pants the scene." Exactly!

    I do create my characters a bit differently, using a big giant questionnaire I got from K.M. Weiland which has really helped me flesh out my mc(s). It's time consuming but worth it.