Get To Know Your Characters Before You Write Their Stories

by Roxanna Coldiron

Character development is one of the hardest things about writing a novel. Since your characters are the drivers of the story, you have to become well acquainted with them if you want cohesive storytelling — and a plot that moves forward.

One of the writing tips I learned when I first started wanting to write a novel was that you need to know more about your characters than what you put on the page.

What you should know about your characters

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You can do this exercise before you have come up with a plot. The answers can change as you write your story, too, but you should aim to make your character act in ways consistent with who they are. Your story will then show their growth over time.

1. Where did your character grow up and how did it shape their views?

2. What beliefs or superstitions does your character have that they base some of their decisions on?

3. What are some things that would cause them to lose trust in someone? Or gain trust?

4. What fears, real or imagined, does your character have? How do those fears affect the decisions that the character makes?

5. Who would be their enemy, or someone who makes their life difficult? How did that person become their enemy? Can the relationship be repaired — why or why not?

6. What dreams or hopes does your character have? How did they get to have those dreams/hopes (the original spark)?

If it helps, you could also write a short backstory for each of your characters that does not make it into the final draft of the novel. Use it as a character reference as you write.

Why you should get to know your characters

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It’s really easy to get your characters mixed up while you write. You could get a name wrong at some point in the story or give a character a flashback that originally belonged to a different character.

Writing down character backstories, especially for the main and regular supporting characters, is a tool that will help you to be consistent with your characters and keep them organized. You’ll also understand why your character would do something or not do something.

What techniques do you use to develop your characters?

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