31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 5 – How Do I Create My Characters?

Day 5 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep” is here, and today we’re learning about Character Creation! Isn’t that exciting? If you’ve missed any of my previous “31 Days” posts, click here, or you can watch the corresponding YouTube videos here if reading long informational blogs isn’t your forte. I recommend you check them out, because we’ve been learning LOTS of great things about how to write a novel so far!

If you clicked on this post hoping you were going to find another downloadable character map, I’m sorry, but that isn’t something I can give you. I implore you to stick with me until the end, though, because I’m going to tell you how I create my characters without using a character map. Sound inciting, even a little? You know it doeeessss. I’ll be the first to admit that I have the attention span of a squirrel. My mind is going in a million directions at once, so sitting down and writing out every little detail about a character is just… *shudder*. I’ve tried it, and it just hasn’t ever worked for me. If you feel the same way, then I think you’ll like my method a lot better, because it hardly requires any sitting still until step four. So, here we go.

Step one: Let the character form in your mind.

I usually do this during the mundane moments of my life, like when I’m taking a shower, driving somewhere, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc. Those are good times to let your mind wander, and I feel like you really need to be able to let your mind wander for this stage. For the sake of this example, we’re going to say that you’re coming up with characters for a specific novel–namely, the one you’ll be writing this November. However, this can and does totally work when you’re not working on a novel. You can stockpile character ideas and put them in a nice little character vault to use the next time you need a character. One of my absolute favorite characters from the series I’m writing, The Caspian Chronicles, was from my character vault.

Anyway, when creating characters for a specific novel, try to keep that novel and its plot in the back of your mind. That’ll make sure that the characters you’re coming up with–or, at least, most of them–will fit into the novel when the time comes. Decide general things you want from your characters, like what type of personality you’d like your protagonist to have, or what you think your villain will be doing to achieve their goal throughout the novel.

Things you should be coming up with in this stage are:

Basic appearance
Role in story

When coming up with character voice, it sometimes helps to come up with quotes for your characters. Things they might say. These things don’t have to fit into your novel, but it’s always fun when you come up with a great line and you’re able to incorporate it into your writing.

Step 2: Write it all down.

Don’t worry, this won’t take more than ten minutes, and then you’ll be up and moving again. The thing is, if you don’t write it all down, you’re going to forget something. That’s not me underestimating your memory, that’s me speaking from experience. If you don’t write it down, there’s a big chance you won’t remember it later. You can write it anywhere, too. Notebook, writing app on your phone, Word document, Scrivener… The choice is yours. Just, for God’s sake, Write. It. Down.

Step 3: Figure out the characters’ motivations.

Now that you know the basics about your characters and have written them down, you can move on to figuring out the “why” of it all. Why do they like to go by this certain nickname? Why do they wear these types of clothes? Why are they willing to do this crazy thing that’ll probably end badly for them? Why do they act the way they do? Why, why, why?

This allows you to figure out if the things these characters are doing make sense. Try to remember that characters can and should be sculpted around the plot of your story. Even my Character Vault Guy had to be modified to fit the context of my novel, otherwise he wouldn’t have worked in the story at all. If you really can’t seem to get a character to cooperate with you, though, and they just don’t fit into the plot no matter how hard you try to sculpt them, then you need to shove them into the character vault and find somebody new who will fit into the story. I mean, sometimes the plot can be modified slightly to accommodate a misbehaving character, but try to remember that you’re in control here. I hate to break it to you, but these characters you’re creating… Well, they aren’t real.

Step 4: Write the first draft of your novel and learn more about your characters.

These characters might not be real, but they sure are easier to get to know when you can see them in action, interacting with your other characters. It’s almost like an audition. As you write, you get to see the chemistry between your characters, and you get to understand more about their quirks and intricacies. This is where they become more developed, more like real human beings (though, I reiterate, they are not real). If the chemistry is off between two characters, don’t change the plot, fix the characters. Give them direction. Recast them if you have to. In book one of The Caspian Chronicles, between conception and execution, my characters changed so much. They started flat, and they ended… Well, not round, exactly. They had a long ways to go from that. But, at least, they weren’t as flat as before.

Things you should be coming up with in this stage are:

– Nervous ticks
– Religion
– Hobbies
– Home life
– Past traumas
– Etc.

There’s a million and one different things that you can learn about your characters, too many for me to name, but rest assured that anything you need to know, you will stumble upon. If you don’t stumble upon it, then its not important and doesn’t belong in your story. Simple as that. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t stumble upon it in your very first draft it isn’t important. I just mean that, over the course of writing this book, from first to final draft, if you don’t stumble upon it, it isn’t worth worrying about.

That’s the main reason why I don’t like character maps, I think. They make you spend so much time figuring out things that may not even be pertinent to the story. And, I mean, sure, it’s important to know your characters well, but getting to know them that well is a waste of your time, if I’m being frank. Good writers can make it seem like they know everything about their characters, even when they really don’t. That’s my opinion, at least.

Step 4.5: Write it all down, again.

I didn’t want to make this step five because it isn’t really its own individual step. You need to be writing things down as you discover them, that way you have a comprehensive list somewhere. Remember how I said you’d forget things if you didn’t write them down? Yeah, that still applies here. In a way, I guess you’re making your own character map. The difference is, you’re in charge of it. You get to decide what goes on it, what you learn about the character, what things are actually important to know. That, I think, is invaluable.

Step 5: Keep editing and rewriting, and keep learning more about your characters. 

Like I said: The more you write about them, the more you’ll learn. So keep writing, keep learning, and soon enough you’ll know your characters like the back of your hand. (And don’t forget to keep writing it all down!)

There ya have it! Five (and a half) steps to character creation for Day 5 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”! Make sure you check back in tomorrow, because we’ll be discussing diversity in fiction and why exactly it’s so important to include it in your novel.


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