Building Character: Bringing People (and Aliens) to Life Through Words – Part 2

In Part 1 of my Building Character blog posts, we discussed how a character’s unique traits will determine how they react to anything and everything in the story. I gave a list of 14 things that make a character unique. You can read that post here. In Part 2, I want to dive deeper into 3 of them: experiences, perspective, and beliefs.


Many factors, including physical attributes, cause people to experience life differently. You can start imagining what impacts sex, color, and body measurements (height, weight, musculature, body fat, etc.) may have on a person, real or imaginary. These experiences aren’t just based on the strengths or limitations of their body, but by the way others who see them treat them. Were they treated differently because of their sex or their skin color? Were they unable to play a sport they loved because they didn’t have the correct body type? Do they have a physical deformity, disability, or illness that affected their life? The attributes that make a character unique on the outside could very well affect how they experience life on the inside.

Physical attributes can affect a person’s daily experiences as well as those bigger life-defining moments. If the life-defining moment is negative, emotional trauma can result. Emotional trauma is an emotionally painful event in the character’s life. For example, getting rejected by the boy you like for being overweight can cause emotional trauma.

Emotional trauma—which can come from anywhere, not just physical attributes—is key to character creation. Your characters’ fears, wounds, and emotional needs all stem from their emotional traumas. Screenwriter Michael Hague discusses this in depth in his books, his workshops, and on his website. I urge you to check them out. Here is the short version:

Wound: An emotional trauma. An emotionally painful event in the character’s life.

Fear: Painful emotions the character wants to avoid. Fear stems from the wound and creates an emotional need.

Emotional Need: This is the character’s true goal; the internal goal. The character’s emotional need drives his behavior. A character may not even realize he has an emotional need in the beginning of the story, usually because he lies to himself about his fears and needs.

Lie: In order to cope with his wound, the character believes lies about himself. I call this the negative coping skill.

I’ve included 2 sample character charts showing wounds, fears, lies, and emotional needs from my SciFi Romance Renegade (The Survival Race #3) at the end of the blog.

Your character’s experiences shape his point of view and perspective. 


If you remember from Part 1, POV or perspective is the way your character views life. Perspective plays a HUGE part in what makes a person unique. It shapes their views of the the world and of themselves. Their POV stems from their background. Their history. Their wounds and fears. What is their true motivation? What do they really want? What do they really need?

POV/ perspective shapes the lies our characters believes about themselves. This is where their poor coping mechanisms come from.

Going back to Michael Hague’s teachings, your character’s fear creates his identity.

Identity: Emotional armor (facade) worn to protect your character from his wound. It’s the lie he believes about himself. It’s the negative coping skill. This is where you give your character flaws.

Essence: Who the character is when the emotional armor is stripped. The true self. Who they are when they overcome their flaws. Who they are with better coping skills. Who they are when they are balanced.

Michael Hague says a character arcs when he moves from his identity (the flawed coping skill in the beginning of the story) to essence (true self) by obtaining the emotional need (internal goal).

The end reward (the true internal goal) must satisfy the emotional need that the fear prevents. 


Your experiences and perceptions in life create your beliefs. What you believe is what you perceive to be true based on your experiences. You character may have religious, cultural, and political beliefs. Beliefs about what’s right/ wrong. Beliefs about the world, other people, and themselves.

Beliefs can change over time due to new/ changing experiences and perceptions. It’s our job to make our characters change their flawed beliefs as they arc into a better version of themselves. Remember: a character arcs when he moves from identity (the flawed self) to essence (the true self) by obtaining the emotional need (internal goal).

We talked earlier about the lie the character believes about himself. This lie should center on one of the 5 basic human needs.

1) The need to secure one’s biological and physiological needs.
Air, Water, Food, Clothing, Shelter

Related lie: I’m not worthy of providing for myself or anyone else.

2) The need to keep oneself and one’s family safe.
Protection of life, liberty, or property, and emotions (bullying). Financial security. Protection of health.

Related lie: I don’t deserve to feel safe.

3) The need to feel connected to and be loved by others.
Friendship, Romance, Intimacy, Family

Related lie: I’m not worthy of love or affection.

4) The need to gain esteem and recognition, both by others and from oneself (self-esteem).
Independence, Compensation, Respect, Promotion, Credit, Gratitude, Appreciation

Related lie: I can’t do anything right.

5) To realize one’s full potential. Self-actualization
Higher education, Spiritual enlightenment, Artistic pursuits, Travel and experience, Altruistic and charitable contributions to others.

Related lie: I’ll never be a good enough…(parent, friend, employee, etc.)

I’d wager some of these lies spoke to you. That’s because we all have wounds and fears that we can relate to. When you show this in your story, your characters will be relatable, and they will come to life for your readers. 


This is the character chart I use. You can fill in any part of this character chart first and then work backwards and forward to fill in the rest. You can do this chart at any time in your writing process. You can do it before you start writing your book, which can help you plot the story or fill it in during revisions to be sure you arced your characters properly. Be sure to read Building Character Parts 1 and 2 to understand the chart. The resources I use when completing my charts:
Archetype Cards – Caroline Myss
Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – Deb Dixon
Five Stage Plot Structure – Michael Hague
Negative Trait Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

KATANA [Dominant Impression = Female Gladiator]

Archetype:  Warrior
Light attribute – Strength, skill, discipline, toughness of will. Heroism, stoicism, self-sacrifice.
Shadow attribute – Trading ethical principles for victory at any cost. Indifference to the suffering inflicted on others.

Wound: Years of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) left her feeling unworthy.

1) Unworthiness/ Her life is meaningless
2) Disapproval, humiliation
3) Failure
4) Loneliness

Lies: The lies a character tells himself gives rise to his identity or emotional armor, what I like to call the negative coping skill. I put the negative coping skill in parenthesis after each lie.

1) I am only worthy/ have value if I win. (subservient)
2) If I mask my true feelings, I won’t get hurt. (guarded)

Emotional Need (True Goal):        Emotional Motivation:
1) Realize her full potential           b/c living in her identity is unfulfilling.
2) Unconditional love                    b/c tying love to worth is tiresome and demoralizing.
3) Emotional vulnerability             b/c emotionless relationships are unsatisfying.

Emotional conflict
1) Doesn’t know how to reach her full potential without winning.
2) Believes no one will love her unless she has worth.
3) Fears vulnerability will lead to hurt and pain

Physical Goal:            Physical Motivation:                     Physical Conflict:
To capture escapees    to prove worth & get reward        Regan, Griffin, and injury prevent her


GRIFFIN [Dominant Impression = Prejudiced Scientist]

Archetype:  Pioneer
Light attribute – Passion for doing and creating what has not been done before
Dark attribute – compulsive need to keep moving on

Wound: Failed to stop abusive gladiator father. Failed to protect Mother from abusive father.

1) Becoming his father
2) Losing those he cares about
3) Failure, inadequacy
4) Isolation

Lies: (poor coping mechanisms)
1) All gladiators are abusive. (prejudiced)
The world is better off without gladiators. (prejudiced)
2) I’m better than gladiators. (haughty)
3) Happiness is somewhere else. (escapism)
4) I have to keep working in order to leave this planet. (workaholic)

Emotional Need (True Goal):    Emotional Motivation:
1) Forgiveness                           b/c he blames self for mother’s death/ failure to protect her
2) Peace                                     b/c he failed his mother and is haunted by her death.
3) Belonging                              b/c his prejudice had kept him from fitting in.
3) Self-acceptance                     b/c father didn’t love him for who he was.

Emotional conflict:
Guilt and fear prevent him from attaining forgiveness, peace, belonging, and self-acceptance.

Physical Goal:             Physical Motivation:     Physical Conflict:
Procure a spacecraft    to get to the moon         has to work with & become a the thing he hates most (a gladiator) to win it.

Positive Attributes:
Idealistic, visionary, bold, curious, observant, sensitive, intelligent


Who your characters are at the beginning of the story should not be the same as who they are at the end. They should be unable to attain their goals in the beginning of the book because they haven’t changed or arced yet. Only when they learn to reach their full potential, only when they arc, can they achieve their goal.

If you’d like to see how the characters arc in Renegade, you can buy your copy here.

The last man alive wins. But what if your competitor is the woman you love?

When a scientist and a genetically engineered female gladiator team-up in the Survival Race, passions ignite…and a game-changing secret is revealed. But the race masters demand a single champion in this blood sport, and the rivals-turned-lovers must choose between winning their freedom and losing each other forever.

**This Science Fiction Romance is a stand alone book in a series in which each book’s hero and heroine find their happily ever after.**

Read Building Character Part 3 (Sensing the World) here.

Stay safe out there!

K.M. Fawcett

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