Character is for many writers the driving force of their fiction. Knowing your characters thoroughly is just as important as knowing your plot. Sometimes, it’s even more important. When character comes second to plot, characters often seem stereotypical and dialogue becomes wooden. In order to make your fiction come to life you must bring your characters, especially your main character, come to life for the character.
I’ve compiled a list of exercises to help you develop your characters. You can do one of them or all of them for any and all of your characters. How much work you do to prepare for Nanowrimo is really up to you, but it’s good to have a basic grasp of your characters, setting and plot before you begin. It helps to make for less rewriting.
So how can you develop your characters?
1. Interview your character. This is a fairly common technique in which you interview your character as if for a magazine. Ask your character what their favourite colour is, what their childhood was like, and what made them who they are today. If your character is well known for some reason before the story begins, ask them specific questions about what it is that makes them so well known. Write what you learn down on a separate fact sheet afterwards. Fact sheets are very valuable resources to have when you’re in the midst of writing the book. It’s easier when you don’t have to look through pages and pages of prose to find a useful piece of information.
2. Write about your character’s first love. How somebody acts towards somebody they love, or at least claim to love, is usually a pretty good indicator of their personality in general. Focus on how your character feels about this person and how they express their feelings. If they’ve never fallen in love before, write about a very close friend or mentor who they are no longer connected to. By examining how they think about the person they love and how they communicate with that person, you can figure out whether they are trustworthy or not, whether they tend to obsess over people or things, and how they react to loss. Knowing how your character reacts in a number of different situations is vital to making them come to life on the page.
3. Map out your character’s family. Create a family tree for your character. Figure out at least who their parents and siblings are, and whether or not their siblings have children. I prefer to begin with their grandparents. As you’re mapping them out, write down one sentence about each person in the family. When you’ve finished, write a paragraph or two about how they all get along. Take as much or as little time as you need, and write it from anyone’s point of view–a random stranger is fine here, too.
4. Write about the first time your character meets someone–from the other person’s point of view. It’s important to know your characters very well: what they do for entertainment, how they see themselves, and how others see them. Sometimes writing about one of your characters from the point of view of a stranger tells you a lot about that character. It’s good to know how they are when meeting new people and how they come across to others when you’re in the thick of the book. The more you know about how your character interacts with people, the more realistic you can make their interactions throughout the book.
5. Write about what your character does on an ordinary day. Think of this as a Dear Diary post. It’s really up to the character and how they live what is said and how many words it’s said in. If your character lives a boring life or isn’t very wordy, this exercise might only be a couple of sentences. If your character likes to describe things intimately or lives a life of constant adventure, you might write a couple hundred words. Focus on what they do on a normal weekday, whether it be farming, bartending, or running a large corporation. It’s always good to know what your character does when they’re not saving the day in your novel.
I hope these exercises work for you. I’ve done each at least once and I’ve always learned something. Some characters are easier to learn about than others. Just like real people, some of them are shy and others are mean. Some have hard exteriors but are really all gooey on the inside. Some are waiting to kill you in your sleep. Some exercises will work better with one character than with another. Figure out what works for you, and figure out those characters.
If you liked this blog post and you’re looking forward to Nanowrimo too, please sponsor me this Nanowrimo season.
How do you develop character?
So this week I’ve edited three chapters, written one short story and published one lens on Squidoo. I’ve also signed up for Camp Nanowrimo, with a goal of 80, 000 words for the summer. What I thought would just be a severe edit has turned into a full rewrite, and to be honest, I don’t think I’m going to use any more chapters from the last draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian. This will allow me to reach a much higher word count.
Around the end of the school year I applied for a summer job program. I told myself that if I didn’t get in, I would spend my summer writing instead. I didn’t get in, probably because I had pretty much nothing to put on my application, but I did get a new laptop and I have been writing my butt off. In fact, I’ve been writing almost full time hours-from eleven or twelve until five or six, and yesterday from noon until eight.
Unfortunately writing doesn’t make a lot of money. This leaves me with a lot of inner conflict. I’m supposed to get money from the government and I’ve already been waiting for a month and a half. All the food I eat, the chocolate milk I drink (it’s always on sale in my area), the places I go, all of that is paid for by either my grandmother or my boyfriend. And while my grandmother agreed to be my caregiver and doesn’t fuss about it, and my boyfriend likes spending money on me when he has it, I feel very much like a parasite.
When summer started my biggest internal dilemma was telling myself that yes, I could take a break. That it’s okay to go out for a couple hours with some friends and have a bonfire, because I’ve got all summer, with all my days free, to get this work done. Now I’m in the process of convincing myself that it’s okay not to have a real job, as long as I focus on my goals and my dreams. Writing isn’t going to make me a 500 dollar or more pay check in two weeks. Someday it will be my career, and someday I might even be rich and famous-though I’m not holding my breath for that. I feel bad because right now I don’t have money to throw at the wonderful people in my life and I have no material wealth to share.
I’m seventeen years old, and as much as I always tell other people that not every kid needs a job in their high school years, sometimes I’m not so convinced of it myself. I need to remember that writing books and short stories and whatever else I might write isn’t about a pay check in two weeks, it’s about making money and enjoying life for the rest of my life. The time I spend writing is more of an investment in my future than a summer job.
For that reason, I keep writing on Squidoo for advertising royalties which will only go up from here, and I’ve started a fundraising page for Camp Nanowrimo, hoping that I’ll be able to raise $80, or $10 for every 10, 000 words I write. You can read my lenses here, and you can sponsor me for Camp Nanowrimo here.
In the meantime, I’m going to put on a brave face, tell myself that I’m awesome, and write a book.