Looking for effective tips on developing characters in writing?
Writing a novel can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. There are so many different things to juggle in your head—plot, world-building, pacing, and more. But no one is going to care about any of those other aspects of the story if they don’t have compelling characters to lead them through it.
Think of all your favorite books. Sure, there may be some that you loved most for their inventive worlds or shocking twists. No matter what, though, the characters stick with you. Great Expectations may have a great twist, but it’s Pip’s development throughout the book that really makes the book a classic. And Harry Potter’s magical world would be nothing without strong, dynamic characters like Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the center of it.
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Proven Tips on Character Development in Writing
If you’re at a loss for where to start with your novel, hone in on your characters. You have no idea how much easier everything else will become once you have a handle on your characters’ personalities and goals. Here are some character development tips to help you out along the way.
1. Names Matter
It can be tempting at first to think of your characters as “MC” or “Girlfriend” and “Boyfriend”. And that’s totally fine! I’ve left countless characters unnamed early in the conceptualization process. Even when I do finally come up with names for them, they often end up changing later down the line when I realize that I have too many characters whose names start with the letter “C” or I simply find another that suits the character better.
Still, I’ve found it useful to select names for my characters as soon as possible. Even if they’re just placeholders, having names for your characters will help them to become more real in your mind.
In one of my recent manuscripts, I originally called a character simply “Violin Girl”. As soon as I started thinking of her as “Lara” instead, she leapt right off the page and began her journey toward becoming a fully-fledged character. Her name may end up changing later on, but “Lara” has still helped me to develop her character in the meantime.
2. Make Character Playlists
Once you’re equipped with some names to use as titles, it’s time to make some playlists. I personally use Spotify, but any music app with the ability to make playlists would work fine. For these playlists, you should search for songs that feel like your characters. They can be songs you think the character would enjoy, or songs that suit their relationship with another character, or ones that somehow capture the character’s personality.
One of the first songs I chose for the character Baine in my dystopian novel, Viable, was “In the Backseat” by Arcade Fire. Something about the song’s melancholy and the way electric guitar wove with violin suited my angsty protagonist so well. From there it became so much easier to find other songs for the playlist and to reach a better understanding of who my protagonist truly was.
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One very important facet of a character is what they look like. Things about the way they choose to dress and wear their hair reveal a surprising amount about their personalities. Messy hair may signify a rebellious attitude while fancy clothes show that the character comes from a privileged background.
A good exercise in developing characters in fiction writing is trying to draw them. Don’t worry if you’re not a particularly good artist—that does not matter at all. I am certainly not a gifted artist myself, and yet the crude sketches I’ve made of my characters over the years have helped a great deal in figuring out who they are. Like giving characters names, drawing them makes them seem less like ideas and more like real people.
4. Write Character Bios
While names and doodles will give you a good idea of who your character is on the surface, nothing will help you delve deep into your character’s psyche like writing a character biography. This practice is commonly used by actors when they are preparing for a new role. They sketch out everything they can about their characters’ lives—their histories, their relationships with their friends and family, and anything else that might affect how the characters think and feel throughout the story.
You can do the same thing with each of the main players in your novel. It’s as simple as opening a blank document and just starting to ramble about them. Getting a sense of your characters’ pasts and personal relationships will give you invaluable insight into where each of them is coming from.
If you want to go even deeper with sketching out the psychology behind your characters, you can make a list of your main characters. Then you take the first one on the list and write out a paragraph or so about how they relate to each of the other characters on the list.
After that, you move to the second character and do it all over again. Once you’re finished you will have an intricate web that reveals the relationships between each of your novel’s central characters.
I would recommend trying out the previous three character development tips before tackling this one. It’s much easier to dive into your characters’ biographies once you’re already equipped with their names, some playlists, and a few drawings.
Jillian Karger is the author of a plethora of novels. She enjoys the word “plethora”. Follow her blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at https://www.fictionate.me.