NaNoWriMo Preparation : Character Development

Getting into character.

Character development can be one of the more enjoyable parts of preparing your story. Pro tip, it can also be a great way to overcome writer’s block.  

For Part 1 we’ll look into some ways to get started with your characters. Every writer has a different style, so this list is more suggestions and character prompts for inspiration. Note, most of this will not make it into your novel. A well-defined character will make writing them easier, give motives for their reactions, and help make them more ‘real’ in the writer’s mind.

Character Profile:

Name & Nickname Appearance:
  • Age
  • Height
  • Face Description
  • Hair (color, length, cut, texture)
  • Eyes (color, shape)
  • Build
  • Skin
  • Scars/Marks
  • Style
Personality & Mannerism:
  • (see ‘Tools’ below)
  • Accent/Dialect
  • Speech Tone & Pace
  • Posture
  • Gestures/Ticks
  • Habits
  • Quirks
  • Triggers
  • Limit Break
  • Where they grew up
  • Beliefs/Religion
  • Social Status
  • Lifestyle
  • Education
Day-to-Day Details:
  • Residence
  • Job/Profession
  • Skills/Hobbies
  • Transportation
  • Food preference
  • Drink Preference
  • Entertainment
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Goals/Ambitions
  • Fears/Insecurities
  • Conflict (can be internal and/or external)
  • Secrets
Personal Interactions:
  • Sexuality
  • Attracted to
  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • Related to
  • Past Relationships (who, when, emotions before, during, after)
Additional for specific genres:
  • Fantasy/Sci-Fi: Species, Fur (color, texture, length,) Planet of Origin, Magical Capabilities (specialties, limitations,) Mating Rituals
  • Mystery: I add, where appropriate, when personality traits, secrets, etc are revealed
  • Action Based: weapon (type, proficiency,) hand-to-hand combat experience

Character Exercises

No, not Zumba, though their reaction to a Zumba class would be a fun one. Use these was interview questions to better know your character. This can be especially revealing if you write out the characters verbal and physical reactions. Let’s get started…
  • What’s your favorite movie? Least favorite?
  • If you had a soundtrack, what would be the title song?
  • What do you regret the most?
  • What is your proudest moment?
  • What would you die for?
  • If you had a mantra, what would it be?
  • What animal do you identify most with?
  • What does your perfect life look like?
  • Who is someone you respect?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What do you do to relieve stress?

Tools for developing characters:

  • Role Playing Game Character Sheet: One of my favorite approaches is using character sheets from Role Playing Games (RPG’s.) The internet is full of excellent examples, here is one of mine. They offer the basics of your character in appearance, strengths, weaknesses, specialties, etc.
  • Myers Brigg’s Test: This is a wonderful tool for developing and established characters. The Myers Briggs test helps narrow down the psychological preferences that will guide the basic interaction of your characters. ‘Out of character’ for your characters would go in opposition to their Myers Brigg’s results. A favorite is 16Personalities, it’s well done with engaging content and in-depth descriptions of the results.
  • Horoscope: It’s fun to look through the personalities assigned to the different zodiac and it will help you get a birth date for your character(s.) Many other cultures have different types of horoscope/astrology approach, it would be interesting to match them to your character’s culture and background.

Do’s and Don’ts:

There are some basic guidelines that you can follow, in addition to the profile description that can help further flesh out your characters.
  • Do: Give your protagonist flaws. A flawless protagonist quickly becomes unrelatable and risks being boring.
  • Don’t: Make your antagonist just against your protagonist. They have motivations, history, experiences, etc. that will affect their decisions.
  • Do: Give your character a quirk or mannerism that makes them easily identifiable when there is more than one person in the room and/or conversation.
  • Don’t: Make the whole world revolve around your character. By keeping in mind that the rest of the world does not revolve around your character, but your character is a person in the world will keep it more realistic.
  • Do: Make your characters multi-dimensional. There are very few (any?) people that are entirely one mood or personality ALL the time. Your character can be grumpy, of course, but that doesn’t mean they will never smile or crack a joke—it’s just more rare than the average character. Even the dwarf Grumpy smiled sometimes.
  • Don’t: Give all the information from your character profile in the book. Keep some for yourself, your own, intimate secret between you and your character. Just like you wouldn’t tell anyone your own life story in one sitting, your character shouldn’t either.

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