Crafting Stories or Baking a Cake?

I often compare the crafting of a story to cooking or baking. You have a set of ingredients, and when put together in just the right way, you end up with a delicious curry or the tastiest chocolate cake. If you miss an ingredient, the whole dish can taste different or not work at all.

The Character is the Main Ingredient

With writing fiction, the main ingredient is character—all the active characters. To create a compelling story, you need the rest of the ingredients: the points of the hero’s journey the protagonist is on; the plot; the setting;  tone; mood; point of view; dialogue; and voice.

But, again, it really ALL comes down to character.

Today we’re going to delve into one method of character development that’s fun and sort of a mix and match activity. One of the most important parts of creating fictional characters is making sure they’re realistic. One way to approach this is by tapping into real people in your life, and then kind of like the Garanimals children’s clothing brand, you mix and match characteristics and traits together.

A Character Development Activity

Today’s prompt is more of an activity. Choose 4 or 5 real people (they can be people from your life, people on the periphery, or celebrities or others you know things about). Make a list of character traits for each of these people.

Once you’ve done that, pick and choose traits from each list to create an entirely new person.

This is a fun activity that really makes you think and dig deep.

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

Person #1

  • Seems to enjoy his work
  • Outwardly positive
  • Extraverted
  • Wears glasses
  • Average height
  • Enjoys grilling
  • Enjoys tea
  • Likes smalltalk
  • Loves holidays
  • Has a rolling desk
  • Loves jalapeños
  • Has a goatee
  • Dark hair peppered with gray
  • Works on Sundays
  • Has several kids
  • Loves fishing
  • Loves kayaking
  • Smokes cigars
  • Works in public education

Person #2

  • Accountant
  • Dark hair
  • Smirks
  • Uses good vocabulary
  • Retired
  • Runs
  • Traditional gender role expectations
  • Arrogant
  • Doesn’t like yard work
  • Doesn’t cook
  • Reads Stephen King
  • Wears contact lenses
  • Three kids
  • Over-protective father
  • Special father-daughter relationship
  • Flaunts his children’s successes as if they’re his own

Person #3

  • Extremely logical
  • Hard worker
  • Balding
  • Reading glasses
  • Pulled up from bootstraps/self made
  • Cautious with money
  • Shows love through generosity
  • Keeps emotions under control
  • Loves cycling
  • Loves nice cars
  • Brutally honest
  • Reads SciFi
  • Loves scotch
  • Loves gadgets
  • Works in tech


  • High school technology teacher
  • Near retirement
  • Has two kids, one very successful, the other not
  • Sings the praises of the successful one
  • Loves the idea of a nice car but can never afford one
  • Wears sports coats
  • Brutally honest, especially with his students
  • Ever-present smirk
  • Drinks green tea
  • A little below average height
  • Hates smalltalk
  • Loves gadgets and all things tech
  • Always has the latest computer and accessories
  • Organized desk

As I create this new character, he begins to unfold in my mind. He’s taken on a life of his own and while some of his traits are inspired by the three people I actually know, when mixed and matched, he does not resemble any of them.

Enjoy the activity!

How do your characters react?

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