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:

Good place to include any titles, alternative aliases, etc.

Appearance:

  • Age: This is usually straight forward, but can also include mental age in addition to physical age or age of turning into a vampire and age in years.
  • Height: Good time to consider measurement units in your world.
  • Face Description: Round, square, heart, v-shaped; then there is facial hair, prominent brow…
  • Hair: Color, length, cut, texture…
  • Eyes: Color, shape…
  • Build: Large, bulky, narrow, short, lanky, heavy on top—so many options…
  • Skin: color, texture, temperature…
  • Scars/Marks: (one of my favorites,) get specific. 
  • Style: Professor, grunge, high-class, natural; consider describing an outfit or desired style.

Personality & Mannerism:

(see ‘Tools’ below)

  • Accent/Dialect: Consider where they have and do live and for how long as well as the typical social status of people they interact with often. Do they have multiple depending on situation and location?
  • Speech Tone & Pace: Quiet, but fast? Slow and deliberate? The tone and pace can quickly give an impression.
  • Posture: Do they stand tall and confident? Or stooped? Are they trying to Loki their influence by staying slight so they can observe…
  • Gestures/Ticks: This can be an excellent way to reference a character without their name or draw attention to other details. Gives personality.
  • Habits: Habits work well because it forms something familiar and breaking them shows a change or puts emphasis on an action. 
  • Quirks: These can be endearing or irritating, regardless, they are usually memorable.
  • Triggers: Triggers are a powerful tool both to help and hinder your character. Knowing and understanding them is an asset when writing. May want to actually research deep-seeded ones.
  • Limit Break: If a character is pushed past the point of what they can tolerate, triggered too often, made to act against their nature, the result can be explosive in a physical and/or mental way. Either way, it’s powerful.

Culture:

  • Where they grew up: location, class, brief home description…
  • Beliefs/Religion/Spirituality: include any deviation from the status quo of that practice
  • Social Status: where do they land on the class scale, popular or recluse, etc.
  • Lifestyle: do they live in or beyond their means, lavish or conservative…
  • Education: this is a nice time to consider the institutions of your world as well as street wise knowledge.

Day-to-Day Details:

  • Residence: what does their home look like?
  • Job/Profession: what is their occupation? Are they happy in what they do?
  • Skills/Hobbies: do they have any skills or hobbies, how long have they done them?
  • Transportation: How do they typically get around? Car, bus, bike, on foot, multi-story mammoth…
  • Food preference: what’s their usual food? Any favorites? What do they avoid?
  • Drink Preference: What’s usually in their cup? What’s a treat? What comes back up?
  • Entertainment: Can be general: video games, reading, conquering the hordes; and/or a description of a typical entertaining day 

Story:

  • Strengths: consider mental and physical strengths. History of the character or natural ability can contribute to a character’s strength.
  • Weaknesses: Again, mental and physical influenced by the characters past or just natural disadvantages. 
  • Goals/Ambitions: Internal and external goals are important to both character and plot. Some may not even be known in full to the character though it’s a driving force.
  • Fears/Insecurities: Some of these may not be known or acknowledged by the character, but they are essential in how they behave.
  • Conflict (can be internal and/or external): A lot of conflict can be derived by looking at their goals vs. fears in addition to the external influences.
  • Secrets: Secrets can be used as an asset or detriment to any character; revealing them can be epic.

Personal Interactions:

  • Sexuality: conservative, open, forward, subdued, asexual, intense once trust is found, always looking for love…
  • Attracted to: try to think beyond the male/female and consider personality and even body type as well as things that are a deal breaker.

For the following I usually do a micro-timeline noting relationships by date or book #

  • Friends: list of friends and a short description on how or why the relationship began.
  • Enemies: enemies and possibly why or how the animosity began.
  • Related to: a family tree is useful here
  • Past Relationships: who and when, as well as 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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