One of the first steps in writing a novel is deciding the amazing people that will carry your story.
This decision is much more involved than it may seem. Characters evolve in different ways for different writers, some are created from scratch through careful planning and some create themselves. They pop into your head and certain mannerisms or characteristics are already attached. These are the characters that I love.
To me, they make writing the easy part, because once you know your characters as well as you know yourself, you know what they would do and what they wouldn’t do. They literally scream at you from the page if you try to force them to do something out of character.
But how do you get to know them? What if there is something missing that you haven’t figured out about them? Well…first you should design your characters if they haven’t come to life quite yet.
Things to know other than their physical description are:
- View of the world
- Background (attributes to all of the above)…We are all fashioned by our experiences to a degree
The method I use to get to know my characters is writing backstory. I look at what events have occurred in their lives that have lead them to the moment that the story begins. I let them tell me what has happened…what their life has been like. The more detailed you get, the better you will know the character.
The main characters should of course have the most attention to detail, although, this is a great exercise to go through for supporting characters as well. Once you’ve figured out what kind of person your main character is, you can delve deeper into things that will create internal conflict and give rise to their reaction to external conflict. The following questions will help…
- What is my characters greatest strength? Greatest flaw?
- What does my character fear?
- What do they love/hate about the world/life?
- What is my characters motivation/goal? What do they want?
- How will that motivation drive them through the plot?
- If they do not succeed at meeting their goal, what will they lose? Is this not a fear?
- Do they have secrets? Something they are trying to hide?
- What will be the obstacle that blocks the path to them attaining their goal?
Everything that happens in a novel is cause and effect. When a conflict occurs, the characters react. The conflict causes this reaction which is the effect. This pattern repeats itself over and over in novels, building and making things worse for the main character, until we finally reach the conclusion.
If you know your characters, their reaction will be a no-brainer. Figuring out what conflict to put them face-to-face with, however, becomes the hard part. But that’s another post for another day…right now, get to know your characters!