As I stopped writing last night, I realized that I only have about six more chapters until I’m finished with Turncoats. It was a bittersweet moment- I love this story and my characters, but it’s been too long. I should have finished this thing months ago. I’ll keep everyone updated as I finish the novel and begin to edit. I also, even though I should have waited until I finish it, began looking for agents to query. Who knows? Maybe I’ll rewrite The Four Treasures too and query that too. I’m excited because I saw a couple of agents looking for historical fantasy and that is about the only genre I can write.
I realize that I don’t have much about character development on this blog, mostly because I love talking about plot and worldbuilding so much more. But don’t get me wrong, characters are the most important part of your story because, as readers, we need someone to root for, and that person is your protagonist. Every other element of your story could be fantastic- you’ve got a killer plot, a perfectly-developed world, and believable dialogue- but if your characters fall flat, your readers aren’t going to take any interest in what you’ve written. I’m here today to help you avoid this problem and create characters that are unforgettable.
Creating Your Character Outline
You’re about to collect a lot of information about your character and let me tell you, you need someplace handy to put it. You could make a thousand separate Word docs, but I suggest downloading One Note. It serves as a virtual note and is extremely helpful. The notebooks are broken down into sections and then into pages. So for example, my notebook would be called Turncoats, then I have four sections: characters, outlining, worldbuilding, and miscellaneous. It’s the perfect way to make a comprehensive story file and stay organized, especially since I have upwards of seven pages per character. Take a look:
The best part? You can print files directly into OneNote and write or type on them. Keep your eyes out for some free writing resources that you can use in your story file!
Getting to Know Your Character
Everyone creates characters differently. Some start off with a fully formed idea, while others just know that their character is blond. I’ve been both. The first thing you want to do is learn everything about your character. And I mean everything. Their favorite food, their dog’s name, the address of their childhood home. Everything. Sound daunting? It is. But don’t worry, I’ve created a free printable worksheet for you: the Ultimate Character File! Just fill in the blanks and you’ll soon be an expert on who your character is. I know that I like to be able to visualize my characters clearly, so I like to find actors that are close to what I imagined in my head for my character and keep them close to my character file (that empty space on the last page is perfect for any pictures you want to include!). Next, I get to know my character even better. I interview them. This not only helps develop your character’s voice (see below) but also helps you get a comprehensive story of their life. I made a Character Interview Worksheet to make this easier!
Developing Your Character’s Voice
Your story is going to be living and breathing through your characters, which means that you need to be able to hear their voice. Every single character in your story should talk differently. Think about people in real life. Do they talk exactly the same? No. While some people grew up together or in the same place may use similar expressions and idioms, each person’s experience is unique to only them and so is their way of speaking. My favorite way to do this is putting myself into my character’s shoes and journaling. Not only does this help you develop your character’s way of speaking, but it also helps you develop a stronger narrative. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up using some of your journal entries in your finished product! Here are some prompts to get you started: Character Journals.
What Makes Your Character Tick?
You need to understand how your character’s brain works. As authors, we are tasked with understanding people who are completely different than us. How do I like to do this? I think that the MBTI personality test is an excellent resource. Not only does it tell you your character’s personality type, but many tests often give pages of insights about each type. It is an easy and quick way to make your character more believable. My favorite version of the test is this one: https://www.16personalities.com/. You can even add the information they give you to your character outline.
Making Your Character Relatable
This is where a lot of inexperienced authors (me included!) get things wrong. You may believe that good personality traits make your character likable, and that’s true to a point. You have to be careful not to go over the top. If your character begins to seem perfect, then your readers will get easily annoyed. Imagine if one of your friends was perfect in real life. They got A’s on every test, was the star player of the basketball team, got the lead in the musical, and on top of all that, everyone loved them. You would hate them! Everyone has good and bad traits and as authors, we must find a balance between the two sides. I love flawed characters. In fact, I find myself relating more to characters with whom I share flaws, rather than good qualities. One of my favorite characters, Hal from Henry IV: Part 1, is extremely imperfect and that’s why I love him. He’s stuck between his father and the calling of his responsibilities and the pull of fun and the common people. Hal is ultimately human and makes mistakes. He’s manipulative and sometimes mean, but he is good at heart. We like to see ourselves reflected in our characters and that’s why we have to have a balance because no one is completely good or evil. This applies to villains too. I love complex villains and they’re much scarier when there’s good and bad in them. It means that no one is evil by nature and they made the conscious decision to be evil. I also love stories where some of the bad guys aren’t really bad guys. They’re just on the wrong side, doing their duty. Bad guys that your protagonists can respect are also super interesting because it begs the question: is anyone really evil? Aren’t we all just the protagonists in our own stories? To fully flesh out your character’s strengths and flaws, I like to make a list of both and then expand upon them. For example:
Self-righteous: Benjamin’s mother raised him with a strong sense of morality and he has since learned to never compromise on his morals. However, this can lead to him believing that he is morally superior to others, even when they are faced with a tough decision that may not have a right answer.
I hope that this helps anyone struggling to create three-dimensional characters. I’ve found that these methods are extremely helpful when I’m trying to make my characters believable. Stay tuned for more posts and more free writing resources. I’m considering compiling all of my characters resources into an ebook. Thoughts?