This is the fourth post in my novel writing project, in which I prepare (or try to prepare) for Camp NaNoWriMo. This week I’m going to talk about characters, which is one of the most important things in your book. In the last two weeks we’ve already scraped the surface of creating diverse characters and about the importance of a good secondary cast, which you can read about here and here. if you’d like to take a look at the first post in this series, click here.
For your story to be complete you of course need characters. I think there are several ways in which you can write or outline your novel, but I think I like starting out with the characters because they give you a good idea in which directions your plot could go. I would like to propose an 8 step process, by asking yourself questions.
- How many characters are there? You can always add in more characters or remove some later, but it is important to think about whether your book will have one POV or more. Will there be one main character and several side characters or will there be more main characters? By starting out with this you know to what extent your characters will need to be developed.
- Who are your main characters? Define them in just a few words, what are their connections and what are their most important personality traits and characteristics? This is what I did and then I took a break, for a few days I just let those characters develop in my head, whenever I felt like I needed to add something I did, but I wasn’t consciously doing anything with this.
- What are the basic characteristics of your characters? What’s their age, name, occupation etc. These are just the facts that you need to get straight before entering the next stage.
- Where are they coming from? For me this was a super helpful step, by defining who the characters family was and to think about their past, more of their character came forward. Think about how close they are with their family, who their friends are, how their life was when they were a child. If a person had a bad childhood, their personality and problems in the now probably have changed. Write about their history, their problems and this can be quite elaborate! Don’t be afraid to overdo this. You don’t have to put all of this in your book, but it really helps to give them that three-dimensional feeling.
- What do your characters hate and love? This is already a little defined in their history, but some things to keep in mind are: who are their friends, what is their relationship with their family and do they have a romantic relationship? What is their sexual orientation?
- What are your characters’ personalities? Their flaws, their graces, their skills, their quirks, their hobbies, and what I thought was very helpful was to define their MBTI. Another characteristic that I found useful is to think about whether they’re a leader or a follower.
- What are their goals? What is it that they want in the beginning of the book, this is usually a quite superficial goal, such as travelling the world. Somewhere during the book your character comes to find its ultimate goal, what they actually want in life, for example to be loved and have a family. How is your character going to reach their goal (their motivations) and what is keeping them back (the conflict) and then how is it resolved or how they realize their goal (the awakening)? This step is quite hard, at least it is for me, so it isn’t really complete yet.
- What do they look like? This is a fun part, you can think of how your character actually looks, what are their features, what’s their body type, what do they like to wear, etc.
You can easily mix up the steps and give it your own swing, but that’s totally okay because it’s a process.
I’ve also thought of some things to spice up this process and that make it even more fun:
- Make mood boards. You can make them per character to get a gist of who they are and what they look like. I made one for each four of my characters and a general one for all of the pictures I might need for reference later. I use weheartit.com and pinterest.com for this.
- Make a family tree. I did this because one of my main characters has quite a complicated family tree and I needed to keep track of who had died and who married who etc.
- Draw your characters. Don’t worry if you can’t draw you can use online avatar creating games to do the same. I used this one for my female characters. The disadvantage of these is that they’re never exactly as you want them to be, for example they don’t have the hairstyle you want.
- Create playlists. I actually started doing this because I heard a song that explained so perfectly the relationship between two of my characters. It’s a lot of fun to see your characters come alive in the form of a song.
- Create a timeline. These can be important to keep track of the character’s histories and how they might be intertwined.
At first I tried to write all this down on paper with the use of several templates I found online such as this one (this one inspired for the large part how I developed my characters, so a huge thanks to the creator) or this one (thank you too). However it didn’t really work for me to write it down because it felt really final and it would become a mess because sometimes I had too much to write and to little space to write it on. Therefore I am now using OneNote, which is basically an online notebook in which you can also add photo’s, tabs, different pages with drop down menus etc. I find it very useful.
I hope this post got you inspired to develop your characters, at least I did! How do you develop your characters and did you learn something from experience? Did you find this post useful?