Hello there! So you’ve finished the first part of my blog series about writing a book. Great. Let’s start on part 2 then. But as I mentioned in part one, research keeps going throughout the whole writing process – including character development. After all, 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. Now let’s get started.
Plot vs character – what’s more important?
You could have a great storyline but no real idea of who’s in it, or a kick-ass character with nowhere for them to play. Chances are you’ve got a bit of both. The general consensus is character is King and I tend to agree. Having well-rounded characters creates a much more fulfilling read than chucking thinly sketched ciphers into a plot pot and hoping it works. Take your time to really build believable characters that your readers will connect with.
No matter how open-minded we think we are, everyone has an unconscious bias. You shouldn’t change your characters just to make your story pass some arbitrary “diversity test”, but you should consider your character choices with a critical eye. It’s easy to write about people we know, who come from the same background as us but it’s not always realistic for your story.
Or you may think the characters you’ve included are diverse – but it’s worth considering if they’re subject to stereotypical traits, or if any of them could be more well-rounded.
You may even be worried about getting it wrong, so think it’s not worth the hassle. And, as I said before, no-ones saying you have to include a whole bunch of different characters just because. But people are people, and they have similar hopes and fears no matter what. It’s just critical to do your research so you know who you’re writing about.
How to get to know your characters
There are many ways to breathe life into your protagonists. If you can make them real for you, you can make them real for your readers. Here are some techniques to try:
This is simple and can be as detailed as you choose. What you include is up to you and there are lots of templates out there to get you started. The template I use 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 mostly focusing on your primary characters.
It can help to note down everything about your character even if you never mention it in your book – but I’d argue it’s not a necessity. It’s a personal preference as to how much you need to feel like you understand your character before you can write them. And understanding them will help you to know how they’ll react to what happens, thus developing your plot.
You don’t have to actually sit down and interview thin-air – unless that’s your thing! This idea involves you asking interview questions that you then answer “in character”. I’ve got a more detailed blog post about character interviews to help you out. You can ask anything you like, but after the obvious ones around age and background, try to include more abstract queries, perhaps ones that have bearing on some intended plot points. Job interview questions are a good springboard. Or perhaps imagine each character filling in a dating agency questionnaire.
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 useful resource for this as well as other areas of writing.
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!