How To Write a Novel-Part 2: Character

pensive by _Zhang

image by _Zhang via Flickr

After spending the past week brainstorming ideas for my estranged sister story, I’ve hit a wall. I’ve come up with some possible ideas for this novel but nothing concrete. I need to know more about the characters. Who are they? What do they look like? What’s their backstory?

Knowing more about the characters will help me figure out the point of this story.

Character development is probably my favorite part of the story writing process. I usually start with figuring out the basics: General appearance, how old they are at the time of the story, occupation, marital status, do they have children, and who are the other family members.

After I have the basic character information, I’ll then write a biography starting from childhood and covering any major events that have happened up until the starting point of the story. These are usually three to five pages long, sometimes longer depending on the complexity of the character, where I let my mind wander and let the character tell their life story. The biography is where I learn the following details about my character:

  • What their life was like growing up – chaotic, idyllic, impoverished, etc.
  • Events that have influenced their choices in life.
  • Their relationships with others.
  • Their fears.
  • Their flaws.
  • Their secrets.
  • Their dreams.
  • Their disappointments in life.

It’s important to know what makes your characters tick. The biographical details you discover help to create believable and relatable characters. They also help with the plotting process. As you develop your story people, you’ll uncover what their goals are, both external and internal. This in turn helps you figure out what motivates them and what possible obstacles you can throw at them during the course of your story.

True-to-life characters have emotional baggage, and creating a character biography helps pinpoint what those issues are. That baggage will be a source of conflict, and conflict is what makes the story interesting. It keeps readers turning the page and coming back for more. And, as with most writers, keeping the reader engaged is my ultimate goal.

What methods do you use to develop your characters? Are you like me and try to figure them out during the planning process, or do you learn about them as you’re writing the story?

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