Two Essential Ways to Build Your Characters

by Katie McGarry, author of Pushing the Limits (Harlequin TEEN)

Nothing in writing causes me more joy or pain than creating my characters. Sometimes I have characters who sit themselves next to me and tell me their life story. Sometimes I have characters who love to play hard to get. But without fail, by the time I’m done writing a book, I know way more about all my characters than what makes it into the actual story.

How do I create my characters? Well, I do several things.

1. I ask them questions.

Echo, the heroine in Pushing the Limits, was awesome at answering questions. I asked her: “Do you have any siblings?” She answered: “Yes, but he died.”

Does it get much better than that? Of course, at that point, I had to know what happened and she was more than happy to tell me.

Another question I asked is if she was a virgin. I saw her blush bright red as she answered yes. That told me that in order to create instant conflict, she needed a hero who wasn’t embarrassed about sex.

So what do you do when you have a character who refuses to answer questions?

2. I let them play.

Noah, the hero in Pushing the Limits, refused to answer any of my questions. He crossed his arms over his chest and snapped his mouth tight.

So I free wrote Noah. I gave him room on the page with absolutely no expectations from me. Imagine my surprise when the only thing that would keep him in his guidance counselor’s office was the offer of seeing his brothers. I had no idea he had brothers until he sat back down in the chair.

The best advice I can give is to always be willing to listen to your characters. You’ll never be sorry you did.

Editor’s Note: Katie is on a blog tour promoting her debut Harlequin TEEN novel PUSHING THE LIMITS! She’s stopped by to talk about her characters. If you would like to WIN a copy of PUSHING THE LIMITS, leave a comment here in answer to this question: Have you ever met a character on a page that resembles you in some way? Answer on the blog before Friday, July 27, 11:59 p.m. EST. US and Canada residents only, I’m afraid. For full contest details, see here.

Check out the next stops on Katie’s blog tour:

Wednesday, July 25th – Harlequin Blog

Monday, July 30th –

Tuesday, July 31st * Book Bday* –

Wednesday, August 1st –

Thursday, August 2nd –

Friday, August 3rd –

Monday, August 6th –

Tuesday, August 7th –

Wednesday, August 8th –

Thursday, August 9th –

Friday, August 10th –

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Comments ( 37 )
  1. Mary DeBorde M.A.D.
    July 26, 2012 at 12:25 am

    From the incredible dystopian novel ‘Inside Out’ by Maria V. Snyder, I am very much reminded of myself by the heroine Trella!

    I was also given up for adoption, and Trella’s combination of hurt, defiance & need were so incredibly spot on. For so long a time, Trella carried a huge chip on her shoulder, and defied anyone to get close to her.

    But in the end, as I have found, it’s better to let love inside <3

  2. Stacey
    July 26, 2012 at 7:17 am

    i do not think i have met a character like me, i have met character’s i wish i was more like, but that is about it.

    but for me reading is my getaway, escape from the stresses of 4 busy crazy kids, so i do not think i would want to read a book where she was like me, i want to meet new friends 😀

  3. Caitlin
    July 26, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I’ve never met a character exactly like me, but I have found ones with similar traits. Actually, when I start to think about it, I meet lots of characters that resemble my closest friends- I always find that cool!

  4. Fedora
    July 26, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Great post, Katie! I haven’t yet read a character exactly like me–that would be a little frightening 😉 I’ve certainly read characters I can relate to–those are the ones who I remember long after I’ve finished the book. I’ve also read many who I’d love to become more like 🙂

    Thanks for sharing a little about how you created your characters (or maybe about how they created themselves ;))!

  5. Natasha
    July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I have found some characters that have things in common with me before. I’ve never found one exactly like me though. Thanks for the chance to win!

  6. Ashley D.
    July 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Yeah, I’d definitely say there’s been a few characters I’ve felt were a bit like me. Thanks for the giveaway!

  7. Stephanie
    July 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Great character discussion. I’ll have to give asking direct questions a try with one of mine who’s being difficult at the moment.

    As for the question, I don’t think I’ve ever met a character like me. Some who had similarities sure. And some I wish to be more like. But never anyone just like me.

  8. Gina L. Maxwell
    July 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Great post, Katie! I do the same thing you do with my characters when writing. My favorite part of the writing process is when the characters talk to me and tell me things about them I never saw coming. For example, the hero in my current release is an MMA fighter, and I didn’t think he’d be anything more than that. But then somewhere in chapter 3 he told me he actually liked to draw and sculpt! A fighter with an artist’s soul, what a great surprise!

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a character that’s exactly like me, however, little bits of me usually make it into the heroines in my books. 🙂

    Congrats on your debut, Katie!

  9. Justine
    July 29, 2012 at 3:36 am

    Parts of my teenage self — the naivete, self-righteous idealism, and dedication to academics — were reflected by Jessica Darling in Sloppy First and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty and by Natalie Sterling in Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian.

  10. Emmalee Giantomasso
    July 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Unfortunately now, I used to really relate to Bella from twilight, before it ever got made into the movie that ruined the book. I’m very clumsy, with brown eyes and brown hair so I could really relate.

  11. Dawna
    July 30, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Not so much but i have found some i whould to be like

  12. Book review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (9781848450776) E-book | The Eclectic Review
    July 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    […] out Katie McGarry’s “Two Essential Ways to Build Your Characters” at  Great […]

  13. Cyndi Tefft
    August 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Good advice! I like the element of play and surprise, of learning more by asking simple questions. It appeals to the psychologist in me. 🙂


  14. Heatherc
    August 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    I wish I was like some of these characters I read about. Just little details like short, always making a joke, likes walking to the river, etc. bt I think everbody can say that 🙂

  15. Christene Houston {Author-A Heart So Broken
    August 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    What a great article! Isn’t that the most fascinating part of writing? I love how you worked with your very different character personalities, and while some may think it sounds crazy to talk to people in your head, it sounds like home to me. Great work!

  16. BLOG TOUR STOP #6 Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry @katiemcgarry @harlequinteen
    September 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    […] Every stop on the blog tour features new excerpts – the complete tour schedule can be found here: Echo: “Is there a bathroom nearby?” Ashley interrupted. “The baby loves to sit on my […]

  17. GIVEAWAY + REVIEW Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry @harlequinteen @katiemcgarry
    September 12, 2014 at 11:31 am

    […] out the other blog tour hosts HERE for more giveaways! Follow Me Extra Entries +1 Follow me on Twitter HERE  +1 Like […]

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