Recipe for Great Characters

Recipe for Great Characters

Ruth E. Walker.

Sometimes you need to cook up a new character. Sometimes, you just want to add depth to a character that could use a little spice. Here’s my quick and easy recipe. It’s open to all kinds of substitutions, so feel free to experiment and season to taste. I’d love to hear how it worked for you. By the way, if you are missing any of the “ingredients” email and I’ll email you a starter.


  • 1 cup of ‘real’ person (a neighbour, a picture from a magazine or someone from your past, for example)
  • 1 cup of a story idea (choose a theme or a question that begs for an answer)
  • 2/3 cup setting (browse through travel brochures, coffee table books or stare into your own backyard)
  • ¼ cup back story (this one’s entirely up to you, writer!)
  • Flavour bouquet (mix 3 positive and 2 negative traits, such as cheerful, friendly, kind and boastful, envious…)
  • 1 tsp of a line of dialogue (overheard on a bus or at an event, or some line you really like)


  1. In a quiet room, mix together the first three ingredients. Allow them to simmer over a low heat. Stir occasionally to see what changes.
  2. Add back story. Continue to simmer.
  3. Choose contents of your bouquet. Loosely tie ingredients together and add them to the pot.  NOTE: Don’t worry if any bouquet ingredients seem too strong at first; you can always spoon some out for now. Remember to reserve your removed ingredients in case you need them later on.
  4. Carefully insert the line of dialogue.
  5. Bake in your pre-heated mind for 2 minutes.

INGREDIENT LIST — brief notes here, just the bare bones. This will be your reference point as you write your character scene later on.

1 cup of real person

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Appearance Basics

1 cup of a story idea

  • Kind of story and genre
  • Loss/Gain
  • Theme(s)
  • Emotional connection for character?

2/3 cup setting

  • Place
  • Year
  • Season/temp
  • Time of day
  • Smells, sounds

¼ cup back story

  • Childhood
  • Old losses
  • Old gains

Flavour bouquet

  • Positive
  • Negative

1 tsp of a line of dialogue

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah-de-blah blah!”

Additional spices

You are the cook; what else do you want to add?