Posted in Fiction Writing

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Character Development (continued)

There are thousands of character creation tools available in books and on the internet. If you need a worksheet or other tool to help you create your characters, just Google the topic. You will find bazillions of listings for how-to’s, spreadsheets, charts, videos, documents to print out and fill in, name generators, character wheels, and also software like Character Writer, Writer’s Block, Character Pro, and Scrivener (I haven’t used any of these software programs other than Scrivener which is inexpensive, easy to learn via video tutorials on YouTube, is both visual and logical, and makes all aspects of novel writing easier to manage. I also don’t make any money by endorsing it FYI. But I like it enough to recommend it).

Not every writer makes character profiles, just like not every writer plots out their novel in advance, but there are some good reasons to do the preparation work. Character profiles help you weave a back story in without information dumping, and also allows you to fully understand your character so you can show him/her without resorting to clichés. The more complex the story the easier it is to forget details of each character as you get deeper into the actual writing part. Profiles help you to remember things. Profiles also help you ensure that your character is well-rounded. Profiles help you problem solve. Your character profile will also help you keep your character acting at maximum capacity.

Consider what kind and how many characters you need for your story. If you are writing a romance you need at least two characters who can fall in love with each other. If you are writing a thriller you need at least a protagonist and an antagonist to pit against each other. Each character should have their own profile, including the antagonist and the sidekick so that they each have their own goals, motivations, conflicts, fears, characteristics, weaknesses, and strengths.

Your characters need a past. The past dictates his/her present to some degree. If your character grew up in poverty living in a one-bedroom trailer with seven other people and a dog and is now a billionaire, things had to happen to them to make them who they are now. Your readers may never learn all of those details, but if you have those already built into your character profile you can serve up tantalizing hints to intrigue your reader along the way. The back story helps to flesh out your character and helps them to seem real.

Your characters need a physical body of some kind. What does that look like? If your character has a scar across their ankle from falling down the stairs when they were seven, and this plays into your story in chapter two, you probably need to remember they have a scar on their ankle in chapter nineteen, or if you are writing a series, in book five.  Trust me on this. You may think that it is no big deal if your character is left-handed in book one but is right-handed in book seven, but your readers will and they will tell you all about it.

Find a photograph that resembles what you are envisioning your character to look like. Keep that handy because it will help you to remember these kinds of details when you are in the trenches of writing.

Your character profile is where you clarify what the goals are, what the internal conflicts are, what the specific mannerisms, and ticks, and fears, and driving forces, and emotional triggers are. Your character profile will also allow you to consistently associate any symbols, colors, moods, sounds, smells, wise sayings, themes, allegories etc…that you want associated with that character so he/she will be unique to your story.

Don’t be surprised if your characters then come to life on the page. Don’t be surprised if your characters then require you to revise your plot. Don’t be surprised if you get more excited about your story than you’ve ever been before and you can’t wait to write it. Creating character profiles is a LOT of work. But it is worth it.

 

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