How I Accidentally Became an Indie Author Series – Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

Last week we talked about finding inspiration for writing and developing a general idea for your book. This week we’ll take a deeper look into developing the idea into something more tangible. Without further ado, here is step two (at least, the way I write):

Step Two: Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

I used to just dive right in and start writing, and for the most part, is still do, but I have learned over time that the story flows a little better and requires fewer major rewrites if I do some basic planning. Now, I tend to think about how my character got into the predicament/catastrophe/position he/she is in. What would I do? What does the character think, see, feel, hear, etc.?

It’s important to note you should consider those questions at every stage of writing your story. Your character might change with the circumstances, or she might stay steadfast. It’s up to you, but make sure your choices make sense for your story and your character.

How do you know if your character is doing something, well, out-of-character? You get to know your character first. You should know him/her as well as you know yourself because, really, you are the characters.

For my own work, I usually have a clear picture of what my main and supporting characters look like, so I jot it down. Then I begin to develop other parts like personality, character traits, quirks, likes and dislikes—I might not use them all, but they’re available for quick reference if I want to. And that’s important when writing. No one wants to stop the flow of an idea to try to remember little details such as what color did I say her eyes were? It seems trivial, but readers will notice. If you don’t know your character, it shows.

I recently found a list on The Novel Factory, a website that offers structured writing “rules” and suggestions. I love their page The Ultimate Character Questionnaire. It lists over 150 questions you can ask yourself about your character (not all of which you necessarily need, but it’s great reference material.)

I recommend, as a minimum, to have the following details hammered out for your main character and primary supporting characters (pulled from the questionnaire):

  • Basic Questions
    • Name (first, last, nickname?)
    • Date of birth/age
  • Appearance
    • Height/weight
    • Hair/skin/eye color
    • Ethnicity/race
    • Distinguishing features (tattoos, scars, etc.)
    • Clothing style
    • Mannerisms/quirks
    • Disabilities
  • Personality
    • Catchphrases
    • Optimist or pessimist
    • Introvert or extrovert
    • Habits
    • Strongest traits
    • Weakest traits
    • Friendship qualities
    • Response to conflict/stress
  • Past and Future
    • Backstory ideas (birthplace, childhood incidents)
    • Social status (rich, poor, etc.)
    • Family situation (neglect, positive environment)
    • Memories
  • Love Interest
    • What is their love language (affectionate, standoffish)
    • Sexual orientation
  • Other Details
    • Work, education, hobbies
    • Favorite things
    • Possessions of importance
    • Spirituality
    • Values
    • Daily life (allergies, eating habits, home life)

It’s a long list, but it can easily grow! Having a thorough understanding of your character will go a long way toward helping your story flow, and it will tap into your reader’s emotions. Here is an example from my own work. Conor Hudson is one of my popular characters, probably because she is highly relatable. Most people liked her, despite a few moments of frustration and annoyance. And let’s face it, there isn’t a single person in our lives we haven’t wanted to shake silly once or twice, right?

For Conor, my character map looked a bit like this:

  • Basic Questions
    • Conor Hudson
    • 14-18 through course of the book
  • Appearance
    • Shorter than average, average weight
    • Brown hair and eyes, pale skin
    • Caucasian, Irish descent
    • Minimalist clothing style
  • Personality
    • Somewhat pessimistic
    • Introvert
    • Reads a lot
    • Highly intelligent, gifted
    • Afraid to step outside of her safety zone
    • Steadfast friend
    • Tends to avoid conflict, but grows in time
  • Past and Future
    • Born in Colorado, parents killed in a car accident
    • Middle-class life in Savannah, lives with grandmother
    • Loving grandmother plays a significant part in her life, positive
    • Remembers the night vividly her parents died
  • Love Interest
    • Wants love but is fearful, nervous
    • Interested in boys
  • Other Details
    • Westmore Academy, a private school for gifted
    • Religious, not outwardly mentioned in the book but implied through her thoughts about her parents
    • Values honesty and loyalty

These are only a few traits, and if you read The Yellow Note, you know there are many more!

Homework for this week: Spend some time getting to know your characters. Think about your story idea and what your main character thinks about it. Who are they? What do they see, think, smell, hear… Then check out the linked website for character development questions and work on your main character! If you feel like it, work on some supporting characters, too!

Next week we’ll take a look at developing your idea through World Development!


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