Discover Your Character's VIPs

This is the final post in a three-part series on creating a character from scratch. In this series, I cover one step per post, to give you a sense of why I think it’s important, how I figure it out for my own characters, and various tips and tricks to help you on your own way.

We’ve talked already about naming a character and honing in on their physicality. Now it’s time to talk about who is most important to them.

Let’s call these people your character’s VIPs.

When considering the important people (the VIPs) in our characters’ lives, we tend to go for the obvious, the most beloved: the spouse, the best friend, the only child.

Those usually aren’t the only people who have an impact on our lives.

Consider the the talk show personality we’ll likely never meet but who inspires us nonetheless; the naturopath who helps us feel healthy for the first time; the teacher who encourages our creative pursuits when everyone else tells us to be sensible.

There’s likely more than one VIP in your character’s life. They may not have always been important, and maybe they won’t always rank so highly, but through the course of your story, these people could factor into things in any number of ways:

  • When something exciting happens to your character, they'll probably be hyped up to share the news with at least one of their VIPs.
  • When your character does something they're ashamed of, these may be the people they're most determined to hide it from.
  • When devastating news comes to light, your character could break down with or need to lean on one of the VIPs.

It’s important for us to know who the VIPs are to our characters because they have a huge impact on their lives, for better or worse. Story events don’t affect your character in a vacuum: there’s a ripple effect, ebbing out to the people most important to them.

Let’s look at a few examples ...

Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.

Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.

Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

At first glance, these characters might seem to have little in common besides being memorable supporting characters, but one thing links them all: their impact on a protagonist's life.

The Nightmare Boss

Miranda Priestly isn’t just the magazine editor from across the River Styx, she’s a huge factor in Andy’s life, partly because she takes up so much of her time and energy, and because of the change - some for the worse, some for the better - she invokes.

Working with Miranda pushes Andy to uncomfortable extremes. It also serves to push her out of her comfort zone, and by the end of the film, after Andy quits her job at Runway magazine, we see that she hasn’t come full circle. Instead, she’s taken some of her newfound confidence and rolled it into a version of herself that combines the best of the old and the new.

The Wisened Hermit

While we were treated to a more fulsome story for Obi-Wan in the Prequel Trilogy, many Star Wars fans (myself included) first met him as Ben Kenobi in A New Hope. If it weren't for his commitment to the Skywalker twins - watching over Luke as he grew up on Tatooine, then counselling him in the ways of the Force, and responding to Leia's distress signal – Luke likely would have died with his aunt and uncle, never met his sister, and never realised the full Force of his potential.

Luke's journey, physically and mentally, is made possible through the mentorship of Ben Kenobi, and even though he doesn't always heed "old Ben's" advice, Ben's guiding hand continues to reach out to his pupil – and the son of his one-time best friend – throughout the trilogy.

The Younger Sister

Were it not for Primrose Everdeen’s name being drawn for the Hunger Games, the series wouldn’t have unfolded as it had. Katniss would never have volunteered to take her place, and in all likelihood the life-and-death games would carried on as normal for countless more years. Chances are Peeta would have perished in that first game, the Capitol would have continued to be in control, and there would have been no rallying point for the districts. Her bond to Primrose is also what draws her to Rue, leading to District 11’s loyalty to Katniss and all she comes to stand for.

Adam Parker (Heartland), Rosethorn (Circle of Magic quartet), and Professor Nasrin Mehani (The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2) are three more examples of supporting characters who greatly influence a lead character's life, while also being stellar characters in their own right.

Characters are rarely unaffected by anyone else, even if they claim to be a lone wolf.

People don’t have to be physically present to have an effect, either. As well as long distance relationships and deceased loved ones, consider someone who has nightmares about their incarcerated assailant, or perhaps imagine someone who was bullied in elementary school and still bears the mental scars.

When you’re creating a character, consider who has an effect on them. Don’t worry about whether it seems like a “legitimate” or “worthy” effect. If your character flinches or lights up at the mention of someone, that’s significant, and you’ll miss out on valuable story fodder if you ignore it.

What if they don't have anyone?

If your character doesn’t seem to have any VIPs, it might be that you need to dig a little deeper, or they could be telling the truth.

Maybe your character is reluctant to let people get close enough to be important.

Maybe the only important person in their life is a social worker, because they influence their home placements, or a caretaker who looks after their wife’s grave.

Maybe they’ve shut people out temporarily, or maybe it’s something they’ve struggled with their whole life.

Be open to the possibilities. Explore them. See where they take you. At its core, this is exactly what character creation is: exploration.

Your Assignment

1. Figure out who your character’s VIPs currently are.

Aim for three people, cap it at five. Though there may be more still to list, try not to get (too) lost in a sea of possibilities! You can always come back to this list and play with it some more at the end of your next draft or the next time you get stuck.

2. Write down the relationship between your character and each of their VIPs.

If it’s tense, write down how this tension manifests and what kicked off the tension in the first place. If it’s loving, figure out some of the ways they express this love. If it’s one-sided admiration, make sure you know where the admiration stems from and how the character on the other side of the equation feels about it (if they even know).

3. Expand on the impact these relationships have on your character.

How does your character act when they’re around each person? What sorts of things bring them to mind when they’re not in the vicinity? Do they make your character feel positive/negative/fearful/jubilant/hyper/bouncy? What decisions has your character made that have been influenced by the other’s opinion?

4. Consider whether any of these relationships conflict with each other.

Maybe your character desperately wants to impress their boss but in doing so pushes their partner way down the priority list. Maybe your character feels torn between divorcing parents. Maybe your character has to arbitrate disputes between valued colleagues. Find the conflict and make a note of it.

That’s a lot of material, eh? Make sure you have a consistent place to keep it so you can find it at any time! This post explains how to do so in a bullet journal, or you could just use these lovely ol’ worksheets to keep it all straight.

If you’ve worked through this series from beginning to end, you haven’t just created a character: you’ve created a character with a meaningful name, figured out what they look and sound like, and learned all about the people most important to them. That’s pretty darn impressive! Let’s have a cup of cocoa to celebrate, eh? Okay, and maybe a brownie, too.

With these pieces in place, you can carry on with character building for a whole new character until you’ve got the whole cast filled out, or you can jump right into plotting the story. At this point, you have more than enough material to get started.

If you want to carry on with character creation (and why wouldn’t you, right?), my free course, Create an Epic Character Foundation, will be right up your alley. It’s got everything you need to delve into the depths of your character’s life. After all, the juicier the character, the juicier the story possibilities!

For now, though, I’d like to thank you for joining me in this series. I loved writing it and hope it proves useful to you for oodles of characters to come!

If you're interested in the free worksheets that accompany this blog post series, click below to download whichever ones catch your fancy. No email sign-up necessary!

Character Creation: Important Relationships Worksheet
Character Creation: The Name Game Worksheet
Character Creation: Physicality Worksheet