Raise your hand if you agree that no matter how good the premise or the plot of a story is, you don’t care about it if you don’t like the characters.
I’ve been told that every character should believe that they are the hero of their story. Well-developed characters will engage a reader’s interest, and so a large task of writing a novel is putting time into understanding and fully fleshing out characters.
How I develop my characters:
For me, character development happens in various stages during my writing process. I start developing my characters immediately when I have a general idea of my story concept. Since I tend to be a plotter, this prewriting stage is the most important for me.
I keep character bios in an Excel spreadsheet for all of my projects. Filling out an in-depth character questionnaire is a valuable way to discover character nuances. Answering more and more questions chisels out full-bodied characters.
I build my questionnaires by compiling online resources, such as this set of questions, and by adding my own relevant questions.
Another way I get into my characters’ heads is by taking Meyers-Briggs personality tests. When I answered as my protagonist of Kingdom in Shadow, the results showed that the MC and I have the same Meyers Briggs type (ENFJ). I put so much of myself in her character, I shouldn’t be surprised. Coincidentally, her main love interest is the same type as my boyfriend (INTJ). I swear, I didn’t plan it intentionally.
Continuous development while drafting
Though I start drafting with a very structured outline and character sheets, I fully understand that things will change while I write my story. The good part is, the changes are generally for the better.
In Kingdom in Shadow, I wrote a character entirely while in the drafting phase. I actually created him to give one of my other characters more depth, but as I wrote his role, he quickly gained more significance and evolved to be my favorite supporting character. He didn’t exist in my initial plan, but I love every ounce of personality and sass that he adds to my story.
Exercises to fine-tune character voice
When we think of a character’s voice, we mostly associate it with dialogue, especially if it is not a POV character. But I like to lump together all forms of communication (verbal and non-verbal) when I set out to nail down a character’s voice. That way, I can clearly imagine not just what they would say, but how they would say it. I consider things like body language or physical ticks.
There are two writing exercises that I do during any stage in the writing process to enhance character voice.
- Create mock interview questions and write responses from the viewpoint of different characters.
- Write a scene and flip the perspective from what you intend on including in the draft.
Both of these are great ways to get into the head of a non-POV character and explore the narrative in a different way.
Revisit characters after draft one is complete
After I finish drafting and before I dive into editing, I pull out my character sheets. I read through them and note what characterizations have changed since my initial plan. I like to see where my characters are at by giving them a quick pulse check. Here is a list of actionable items that I use to ensure that my characters strong and developed.
In Secrets of Sorcery, I noticed a big problem when I reached the end of my first draft. With too much focus on the protagonist’s arc, my antagonist wasn’t fully present. I realized that my problems weren’t necessarily plot driven. My antagonist’s motivations were weak, all over the place, or sometimes absent entirely. Before I had any hope in fixing my story, I had to go back and fully develop my antagonist.
Thanks for reading, please comment with any of your character development tips and tricks on the Newbie to Novelist blog or Instagram!
Also, check out the new PROJECTS page. This page provides an overview of my two WIPs Secrets of Sorcery and The Uprising: Kingdom in Shadow. Recently I added a character overview of both of the books’ MCs and included a character aesthetic for each. Happy writing!