This is the next step I take writing a book, following on from ‘Research’. After a sufficient amount of research under my belt, I move onto my characters. Research and character development will overlap. You might not have a clear idea of all the research you’ll need to do for your characters until you start breaking them down.
Plot vs character – which one comes first?
You could well have a great storyline but no real idea of who’s in it, or a kick-ass character with no-where to play. Chances are you’ve got a bit of both. But I believe character is king and they should be developed before your plot. Having well-rounded characters dictate what happens in your book, creates a much more fulfilling read than chucking thinly sketched ciphers around out-of-nowhere plot points.
Get to know your characters
There are many ways you can breathe life into your protagonists. The key is to do what you need to, to make them real for you. Here are some ways you can get to know your characters:
Write character breakdowns
This is a simple technique. What you include is up to you, there are many templates out there to use. I have a form that includes name, age, physical description, childhood, relationships, work/ambitions, and hopes and fears. You can use this for all your characters, but I’d suggest putting more detail into your primary characters.
Note down everything about your character even if you never mention it in your book. It will all help you to get inside your characters as you write, even if you’re not writing from their perspective. Understanding them means you’ll know how they’ll react to what happens and thus develop your plot.
You don’t have to actually sit down and interview thin-air – unless it helps! This idea involves you ask interview questions that you then answer ‘in character’. You can ask anything you like, but after the obvious ones around age and background, try to include more abstract queries, perhaps ones that having bearing on some intended plot points. Job interview questions are a good spring-board. Or perhaps imagine each character filling in a dating agency questionnaire!
Make a character mood board
If you’re good at drawing you could sketch out your characters to help you to visualise them. For more depth, (or if you’re just not an artist) make a character ‘mood board’. Cut images from magazines and papers, or even collect objects related to your character, so your mood board becomes a mood box. The images could be anything – people that look like your character or their family, places they’ve been, food they like, the car they drive. Alternatively, the Internet is full of pictures and has many free online spaces you can pillage. Pinterest is a very useful resource for this as well as other areas of writing.
No matter how ‘woke’ we think we are, everyone has an unconscious bias. You shouldn’t change a character just because but you should consider them with unbiased eyes. If all your characters are from the same background as you, why is that – and do they need to be? Writing outside of what you know is uncomfortable and you may be worried about getting it wrong. But people are people. They have similar hopes and fears no matter what.
And that’s the end of that bit. Next up – plotting! I hope you’re enjoying these. Any comments or queries, please leave a comment below!