By Natalie Bright

Everybody has secrets. Things deep, down they never tell about their childhood, fears, likes, dislikes, first loves…you know some.

Characters have secrets too. Those buried, dark secrets of your fictional characters, that only you as the creator can know, might lend itself to creating some interesting scenarios for your plot.

Maybe the character knows the secret, or maybe he doesn’t (Luke Skywalker’s father, for example.). Maybe the secret leads him to make wrong decisions. Perhaps the secret is so debilitating it affects everyone your character encounters (a serial killer, for example.).

Here’s a quick guide for creating complex characters:

What’s at stake?


Real reason


Greatest fears


Dig deep, and don’t be afraid of what you might find.

A Character MUST Die!

A Character MUST Die!

Natalie Bright


My WIP is going great. Writing, writing, writing… until this morning.

Last night, our 13yo told me about the latest video game that he and his friends have mastered. It takes place at world’s end (of course), with a surprisingly complex back story (I’m told most games have them). Groups of people were sheltered in different bunkers and given tests of endurance. Long story short, there’s lots of killing and then the survivors commit suicide. That’s where he lost me. So what’s the point of playing this game?

If you write stories for children as I do, this is the reality of entertainment today. How can my historical western book compete against a video game and hold a young reader’s attention? I asked my 13yo his opinion about a fight scene I’m working on. We talked about body movements, hand placement, and the ability of staying on a horse while my character shoots arrows.

“Who dies?” he asked.

“No one dies,” I said.

“It’s not a good story unless someone dies,” he said.

Is that true? I thought about my favorite stories. Charlotte dies. Old Yeller-gone. Jo’s little sister in LITTLE WOMEN. Basically everyone in Hunger Games except for…well, you know. My son might be right. Except no one dies in my story. I can’t kill any of my characters. I like them all, and basically I need them for books 2 and 3. (Dreaming big for a series.)

“They learn to trust and help each other,” I said. “Bitter enemies become best friends and it’s a happy ending.”

“That’s not good,” he replied.

“I’d read it.” This from our 17yo as he studied the contents of the frig. At least I have one reader.

As I sit here staring at the words on my computer screen, I’m wondering which character must go? What’s wrong with a happy ending? All of my characters want to live and I have no idea why. They’ve completely taken over. It happens sometimes.




Characterization Profile List

Characterization Profile List

By Natalie Bright



Weaknesses (give your character flaws to make them believable)


How others see him/her


Natural talents

Cultivated talents

Fears (What does your character fear the most? Make them face it)


Dreams (bad/good/reoccurring)

Most comfortable when

Most uncomfortable when

If granted one wish, what would it be? Why?

Present problems

External conflict or problem

Internal conflict or problem

Main obstacle or problem keeping character from obtaining goal

Character Arc

How does your character change from the beginning to the end of your story.

As the saying goes, you must know all of your characters secrets. What’s hidden in their closet? You may not use this information in your story, but you still need to know.

For Your Reference Library

Psychology of Creating Characters – by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Creating Character: Bringing Your Story to Life (Red Sneaker Writers Book Series) by William Bernhardt

45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein

Happy writing!