Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Characters! And trees thereof!

Sorry for the delayed post,  life keeps getting in the way. This week I wanted to talk about character trees. In their simplest form these are a list of the physical and character attributes of your cast. Everyone has their own idea of what these entail but I'll cover some of the basic information that they should include.

Why bother doing one in the first place? I find they're useful to ensure your characters remain consistent throughout your novel and help you differentiate them from each other so everyone doesn't act and sound the same. Working out who your characters are will help a lot in working out what they will do once you get to plotting. Here's a quick list of what you might include in a character tree.

·         A quick overview or biography of the character. Who are they? What do they want? What's their relationship to other characters? Where are they at emotionally?

·         Physical description. This can be anything from body type, hair colour, eye colour to how they dress. Be sure to include every detail you think is pertinent, from whether they wear jewellery or make up to their personal hygiene regime. It'll inform your writing of the character through the book.

·         Their character traits. Are they outgoing or introverted? The life of the party or do they sit in the corner sipping a coke? What are their interests? What are their strengths and, more importantly, their flaws. That last one is important. Nobody's perfect and the protagonist of your novel shouldn't be either. They need something to humanize them. I'll give you an example: take Superman and Spider-man. Superman is perfect, he's the strongest, smartest and has the ethics of Ghandi. As a result of this he's about as interesting as whole grain toast. Spider-man isn't perfect. He's often late for important events in his personal life, he's prone to slipping up and he rarely gets the girl. He's human but you wouldn't mind grabbing a beer with him sometime, He feels like an approachable guy. Remember you need your readers to want to spend time with your characters, make them likable but not perfect. We hate those who have everything, sad but true.

·         Their relationships with others. Who are their parents? Are they married? Engaged? Do they have kids? Are they a good husband/wife/mother/dad/friend? Who do they hang out with?

·         Their character arc. Who are they at the start of the book? How do they change? What new skills do they learn? Who are they at the end?


That covers the basics. As an added bonus I'm including my own character tree for the character Aimee from "Flare." It's not perfect but it could serve as a practical guide to what you might need before you start tackling the plot. My tree for Aimee isn't comprehensive, there's more in the novel that I didn't have here, but that's the fun of writing, sometimes you end up in a place you weren't expecting. I’ve also left out my character notes for books two and three, because spoilers. As always, please direct any questions, comments and offers of hugs to me via or @paddylennon1 on twitter.

Flare Series: Character trees.

Character: Aimee Dewitt (Revenant)


Aimee is aged fourteen in part one of book one. She’s a “Vanguard” fan girl when we first meet her. She buys all their merchandise and idolises them completely. Her family are rich, her Dad, Paul, runs “DeWitt Industries” an electronics concern and weapons manufacturer. Aimee’s mother is Barbara, a former model and beauty queen. Aimee doesn’t really get on with her parents. Her Dad is distant and only had a child so there’d be someone to carry on the family name and inherit the money. Her mother is obsessed with fashion and likes spending her husband’s money. Barbara is a little put out that a daughter of hers could be so uninterested in shoes and clothes.

Aimee is embarrassed by the money her family has and isn’t really into the whole “accumulating possessions” thing. She hasn't got any friends as she finds stuff the girls her own age are interested in to be boring and she feels that most boys her own age are too dumb to be worth dealing with.

When Aimee and her mother are kidnapped it’s up to Aimee to step up and free herself. But what happens that night leaves her heartbroken and angry. Angry enough to decide to train and become a vigilante like the Vanguard members she adores.

In part two, Aimee is nineteen. She’s still not in regular contact with her father although she hears from him occasionally. She has spent the intervening five years training in martial arts, free-running etc to become a superhero. She’s been inspired by the Vanguard to try to make the world a better place, one crippled mugger at a time. Her love for the Vanguard will make her helping Ryan a natural thing when she encounters him; after all, he’s the only son of her heroes and inspiration.

Aimee is an experienced and creative fighter. In her five year training period she’s become an expert in Escrima, Silat, Kick-boxing, Karate and BJJ and is able to mix and match these fighting styles. Of the three main characters she’s the most “heroic” of the lot and, initially, by far the most competent. She’s brave, tough and utterly unwilling to back down from a fight. She has no trouble charging headfirst into a brawl and throwing everything at her opponent until they’re beaten, though she's not above cheating to ensure that she'll win. She does have a tendency to be brutal, she won’t hesitate to dislocate or break an opponent’s bones with her first strike if it means she’ll come out on top. 


Aimee is five foot four, brown haired and reasonably attractive. She’d be stunning if she ever made the effort to dress up, a side effect of having a model mother. She’s a fitness nut and exercises a lot through martial arts training and jogging so she’s in excellent shape and health.

Her clothing is practical and plain, no bright colours or ornamentation. She doesn’t wear jewellery as this would be dangerous in a fight (earrings get pulled out etc). She will wear gym gear a lot on her down time and hoodies and jeans when just hanging out. None of her relaxation clothes will be top of the line stuff, no Gucci or Prada for her, just better than average brands but nothing flashy.

She wears a bare minimum of make-up, no fake tan etc.

She will dress up for work, plain suits and blouses, better than the average but not over the top in any way. She’s a little ashamed of her wealth and doesn’t want to advertise it.


Aimee’s costume as Revenant will be practical, plain and cover her entire body. It’s mostly black with some grey accents. It would be similar to the survival suit from “Batman Begins”, matte black body armour with a soldier’s web-gear on top. It’ll be tough enough to stop a bullet or blade but also flexible enough to allow her to fight.  She carries her equipment in her web gear. Two Escrima sticks in a scabbard on her back (sticks are thirty-two inches long), combat knife in a scabbard on her left thigh, Grappling gun in a holster on her left thigh. Two flashbang grenades in a pouch on her waist. Other pouches have plastic explosive, detonators, a Leatherman tool, a torch, matches in a waterproof pouch, survival rations and a canteen of water.

She wears a mask to obscure her features but which leaves her mouth visible. The lenses in her mask act as infra-red and night vision lenses when required.

She has a portable computer built into the gauntlet on her left wrist, this is a GPS / map and can help her hack into security systems etc.

Book One Character Arc.

Aimee becomes a hero after a tragedy. We see her first night as a hero and on her second evening in the suit she runs into Ryan. She starts out as someone who is only interested in revenge but meeting Ryan will soften her somewhat. She’ll joke with him etc as she’s so happy to be hanging out with the son of the people who inspired her.  She’s almost too ready to trust him but will quickly assign herself the role of his protector as she realises that Ryan can be a little swept up in things and quickly finds himself out of his depth.  She may even come across as a little bossy to Ryan at certain points but it’s because she wants him to push him to live up to his lineage.

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