Writing Tip: Building a World of Characters

Choose Me! Choose Me!


I’ve been writing like crazy. The kids are out of school in two weeks and it’s time to really get in as much writing as I can to reach my 30 day goal. I have to admit, it’s not easy to write 1,000 words every day. Even though I missed a couple, okay fine, a few days, I made up for it. The good news is it looks like I’ll have a rough first draft ready. The pruning will come this summer.

While I get back to work, thought I’d repost another post from my character development series…

Hope this helps.

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Yesterday, I shared a past post about creating character names and how they can lead to building your character’s personalities. Today, I’m backtracking and reposting this post about building your world of characters. Kind of an important thing to do when you’re starting a manuscript.

So, without further ado, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

How does one go about creating a world of characters for a book?

You probably have a plot written out.  And you might already have all your characters lined up. But I’d like to ask you two questions:

  1. Do you have the right protagonist?
  2. Do you have the best characters that will help you tell your story?

There are many ways to tell a story and many variations of characters that can play in the story. But only the right combination is going to interest your readers.

Whether the writer chooses to keep the characters to a minimum, or employ a significant number of characters so a reference list or key must be provided for the reader, the writer still needs to decide who will be the protagonist and who will have the supporting roles. When you think about it, any character could be a protagonist and depending on who he/she is, your story will change, to reflect their world view.  However, even if this is true, it doesn’t mean every character will be the right MC for the story you want to tell.

What?

Oh, yes.  There were a couple times I chose the wrong protagonist for a manuscript.  And I was fortunate to discover it in the first draft stage, when a supporting character’s personality burst forth with so much color, it was clear he/she needed to be rewritten as the protagonist.  My work became stronger for the change because I listened to what my characters had to say.

Do not be afraid to change your characters around. It will only make your work stronger.

Let Your MC Paint Herself Into Corner and Create Conflict…

An important thing to think about when choosing your protagonist is whether he/she will grow/change and go through an emotional arc (inner conflict) or whether he/she is going to stay the same, because sometimes, people just don’t change.

For the emotional arc or journey to work, the reader needs to believe the character is capable of change.  Show the character’s experiences AND their reaction. Let the reader follow along in your MC’s path to growth or destruction.  Will this character become a better person or will he/she spiral down to the depths of despair?  The emotional arc should be realistic. Nobody is going to believe it if your MC is in an isolated, depressive frame of mind, if he’s Mr. Social in the next scene…unless your MC has a multiple personality. Show the internal growth by allowing your MC respond to the events in the scene. Most successful books show an emotional arc, because it is an excellent way of creating tension.

If you choose your protagonist to stay constant to reflect the reality that people don’t always change, there needs to be a way to make sure the reader is engaged, whether in a great sidekick, a unique narrator’s POV and intriguing plot.  Because to read 250+ pages of the same thing, is…well, boring.

Now that you know if your protagonist will change or remain constant, it’s time to figure out who else gets written in.  Some things to think about:

  1. Is there is enough of a difference between characters, ie: dialogue, personalities, needs, wants.
  2. How do your characters know each other? Is it realistic?
  3. Consider your scenes and make sure all the logical characters are there, otherwise the reader will go, huh?

Many writers use a character worksheet or write out a bio of their key characters so they have something to work with to create a believable character with dialogue, intrigue, motivations and plotting.  I’m more of a write-out-a-page-about-my-character type of gal, since I like experimenting with dialogue and voice up front.

Key things I think about for my characters:

  • Name
  • Nicknames (if any)
  • Age
  • Grade
  • Physical Appearance
  • How do they feel about their looks?
  • Family background
  • Where do they live?
  • Who lives with them?
  • Job (if any)
  • How do they feel about their parents?
  • How do they feel about their siblings?
  • Best friend
  • Enemy
  • Likes
  • Dislikes
  • What motivates them?
  • Do they have any secrets?
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Interesting/Strange Habits
  • What is the best thing that ever happened to them?
  • The worst thing?
  • What problems do they face?
  • What are they willing to do for others?
  • What are they not willing to do?
  • What do they WANT?
  • What do they NEED?
  • Add more as you see fit for the character…

What do you like to ask of your characters?

This is the second post in my Character Development series. (A repost)
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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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