This Friday I will be discussing characters; how I create, design and plot them. I will be using my experience in doing this for my novel The Revelation Academy to describe how I did this particular part of planning. I have also included a couple of recommended resources at the end of this post.
Character development is a crucial part of writing a story, just as important as the plot itself. They are there to deliver the plot, to draw your audience in and to be the heart and soul of the world you are creating. So if you have poorly thought out characters your story will flop. Guaranteed. So how do you develop interesting characters? Here are my three easy steps to getting started.
Step one. Decide what sort of role they are going to play in your story. Are they your main character (MC)? Your villain? Or are they a secondary character, there to add a bit of flavour to the plot? Pinning this down will help you decide what you need to figure out about your character. If they are your main character then you should try to figure out as much about them as possible, as any little fact could affect the decisions they will be making throughout the story. You don’t want to end up having to change a lot of the story after figuring out something important about your MC half way through your seventh draft! Whereas for your background characters you may not need to go into so much depth in the planning stages. They aren’t necessarily the ones making the big decisions so little nuances about their personality aren’t as necessary to figure out first.
Step two. Now for the filling out of detail for your characters. Some people will tell you to go through your character with different aspects of them in mind. For example, today you will figure out their appearance and immediate personality traits. Tomorrow you will figure out their family. The next day their educational background. You get the picture. I prefer to tackle the more important questions first, across a range of subjects. My favourite way to do this is to use a long list of questions for character development. You can find a hundred lists online, but I have linked a couple at the end of this post.
You don’t need to use every single question, I tried it once and got so bogged down I lost all enthusiasm for it. Just pick out the questions most important to your story, and any others that might interest you.
I use these questions to figure out the details of my characters before I start plotting their role in the story in detail. Aside from deciding their initial role in the story I have no idea what they are actually going to do! Fear not, that’s what’s coming next.
Step three. There are several methods you can use to plot a characters development throughout the overall storyline. You can use sticky notes to figure out what each character is doing in each chapter, you can use a timeline program, such as Aeon Timeline, or just write down each characters life during the story on different sheets of paper and use them as reference guides throughout the actual writing of your story. Another option, though I don’t recommend it, is to have a general idea of your characters life in your head when writing and just figure it out as you go. Please don’t do this, it will only cause issues further down the line. Trust me I’ve tried it!
Personally, I like to use sticky notes, that way I can reorganize as I am thinking things through. I use a differently coloured sticky note for each character, that way you can see who has the most page time so you can change it if you want to.
Once I have these sticky notes in place I feel confident that I can write a story with fully developed characters that drive the plot forward in each chapter. So there you have it, my process for character development and some (hopefully) helpful tips and tricks for you to try out with your character development!
Got any tips for me? Leave them in the comments below!
YouTube – Jenna Moreci – Jenna is a writer who posts writing tips every Wednesday. She has been an invaluable resource for me as I go through far too many edits of my novel.
Character Questionnaire – The Novel Factory – This is the most common one you come across on a Google search
Character Questionnaire – Labotomy of a Writer – This one is designed specifically for fantasy characters and is the main one I use.