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Writing Tips - Character Creation

December 1, 2017

 

I swear this is both my favorite and least favorite part of writing a novel.

 

A problem I had been having for years was creating two dimensional characters that just didn't live up to the image in my head. They weren't fleshed out all the way, and it took me a long time to figure out why that was. Finally, I came to a realization: it was a lack of detail.

 

Your characters are people. They should have as detailed and meaningful lives as me and you. Each thing that has happened to them every day of their lives has influenced their decisions and caused them to wind up as the main characters in your book!

I want to take you guys through a bit of my character creation process. At the end of this post (or right here if you don't want to wait) is a download of a 13 page character creation worksheet created by yours truly. Seriously, print it out, and fill it out, and I promise it will help you design thoroughly fleshed out characters in a simple, streamlined manner.

 

Now, I'm going to launch into three seemingly unrelated tirades on character creation, and I hope that by the end of this I've started to make some sense (and help you make sense of your writing!)

 

Let's just jump right in!

Unnecessary Detail is Important

 

This is my mantra. My live-by breathe-by quote of the day/year/lifetime. In your character creation, you should include so much unnecessary detail, that it would be impossible for you to mention it all in a novel. Even in a series! This includes things like:

 

1. What was the name of their first pet?

 

2. What was their mother's maiden name?

 

3. Where did they go to middle school?

 

4. What hospital were they born in?

 

So, you know, basically the security questions you have to answer to log into your Facebook account.

 

My point is, your character should be so fleshed out to you, that you could easily answer questions like this and more if the time came. Whether or not all those details make it into the book is irrelevant, what's important is that they exist and can be called upon when necessary. Fleshing a character out to this degree of detail can be daunting, but is so so so important when crafting a story, and truly separates the average writers from the greats.

Family History is Influential

 

Another thing that often gets overlooked (especially in fantasy novels) (I'm also guilty of this!) is a character's family history. You have this grown adult, set off into the world on their own, not planning on visiting their family. That's all fine and good, but why? Is their family dead? Do they hate their parents? Do they live too far away to go home?

 

The truth is, most people remain in contact with their family even as adults. You can have an in-depth, super interesting character with a personality of gold, but that missing family history will always leave a gap for the reader.

This takes me back to the importance of unnecessary detail. Your character should have a mother and father with full names, birthplaces, and relationships to the character. Do they have siblings? What are their names and relationships to the character? What about aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. that all may have had an impact on your main character's life? 

 

Including these details when planning your characters can make things so much easier in the long run. This information is likely to come up at some point when writing, and once it's fleshed out, your character will be able to draw upon the information with ease.

Your Characters Wants should Drive the Story

 

This is the last rant I'm going to go on for the day, but it may be the most important (and obvious.)

 

Your character should have goals, as we all do, both short term and long term. Whatever plot arc you decide to send your character on must contain fulfillment of one or more of those goals. Now, that may not be the primary reason they take on their quest or make their decisions, but for a story to be interesting and have significant depth, the main plot of the novel should help them realize some of their goals. 

They can be something as complex as wanting to murder the evil tyrant ruling the kingdom, or as simple as trying to get in shape for a marathon. Smaller goals especially can be most easily presented as side plot, and can easily provide layers and depth to your novel. Instead of one major mission or task to complete, you'll now have several smaller tasks to be completed (or not!) along the way that will keep your reader intrigued.

 

Once you flesh out the minor and major goals of several characters, you can determine which of these goals line up best, and this can even be helpful in determining story flow, and 'what comes next?'

I hope this was helpful to my author followers out there! Don't forget, I've supplied a free 13 page worksheet that completely breaks down and elaborates on the points I've made above and more! You can download it here.

 

If you thought this article was helpful, please share it with your friends! Thanks and I'll see you next time!

 

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