I know a lot of writers who like to dive into their new project head first, because they’re just so eager to get started. I’m the same, sometimes. When it comes to writing, I have so many ideas swimming around my head that I end up feeling impatient. I tried winging it with my first draft last year, when I wrote a 50k YA Thriller for NaNoWriMo, but that process didn’t work for me. I prefer to get to know my characters before I start writing the story, because in my opinion, they’re going to help you write it. Your characters are your co-writers (they just don’t get any credit for it, heh).
Getting to know the characters is my favorite part of planning, because it’s always fun. I have this short but specific process that every main character goes through, and that’s what I’ll be sharing with you.
Step 1: The Basics
This first step is creating your basic character outline, including their name, age, top 3 personality traits, position in the story, and physical appearance.
Coming up with the perfect name can be tricky. I usually spend ages on baby name websites, listing all the ones I like the sound and meaning of, but I also look in other places. Some good places to find full names are in cemeteries and film credits.
It may just be a number, but it can be useful to think about the age of the audience you are aiming this book at, and timescales e.g. if you’re writing in first person, then it’s important to make sure you understand the voice of the character, especially if they are younger or older than you.
When you think of personality traits off the top of your head, you usually come up with the usual, common ones, such as funny, sarcastic, kind, honest etc. What I like to do is get an extensive list of traits from the Internet and choose the top 3 for each of my characters (and they are not allowed to share more than one of the same traits). An example of such a list can be found here: http://www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/list-of-character-traits.html. You can choose more than 3 if you want to. That’s just what I prefer.
Position in the Story
Who is your character? Are they the protagonist, antagonist, a best friend, a lover, a neighbor? Establish their position and you can start to build their connections to the plot in your head.
Now is your chance to really create your character and make them a person. I like to sketch my characters and color them in so I know where they’re from, what color their eyes are, what kind of clothes they like to wear etc. For people who don’t like drawing, you can simply write a physical description, or even use online character creators like Hero Machine. Another way is to use the character creators in wrestling video games, or simply put a celebrity or friends face to your characters name so it’s easier to imagine scenes with them in your head.
Step 2: The Interview
The second step is interviewing your character. Now that you have a basic idea of who they are and what they look like, you can start to build a real structure for them.
There are two ways you can interview your character. You can go freestyle – starting with a simple question and then asking following questions based on their answers. The second option is to find a template online.
Step 3: Doing Stuff
By this stage, you have a basic character outline AND you know your character. Now is your chance to put them into practice, so you can get the essence of who they really are. This can be done by finding writing prompts online or creating your own, and writing short scenes involving your character. For example, for Elyssia Dawn in Finding Elyssia, I wrote a completely random chapter in which Elyssia went to a best friends party. This exercise was extremely helpful, because it helped me find her voice and it also helped me create a new character, her best friend, Elizabeth Jean.
And that’s it, guys. That’s how I get to know my characters. Don’t bother doing them for minor ones unless they play an important part in the story and are reoccurring. Now grab a notepad and pen, and get planning! Even if you’ve already begun writing your story, you can still take a pause and do this. I promise, it will help you fall in love with your characters all over again.