Now that my novel is making the query rounds, I’ve started working on two new books. Yes, TWO. The next Guardian novel was already in my head so outlining it was easy. Recently, I had a brilliant (I think) idea for something completely new. Both projects excite me and with Guardian’s outline complete, I’m ready to work on the new story.
Things are starting differently for this one. Before, the plot idea came to me first and I built the characters around it to tell the story. This time, the main characters are screaming at me to get them on a page and I have no idea what kinds of problems they will be getting themselves into.
Either way, narrative or dialog can’t be written until I know exactly who my main characters are and how they arrived in front of me today. The process of novel writing is organic and always changing. There is no right or wrong way to do things. There is only YOUR way. And as you can see, it is ever evolving. So, as I dig deep into character development, I thought I’d share the journey with you.
The writing program I use is Scrivener. If you are a writer and have never heard of it, check it out and set yourself free from MSWord hell. The program is a game changer for putting together a novel. But that’s for another post. The reason I mention it is because Scrivener provides a couple of templates for creating both places and characters. Which means–character sheets. Some writers love them, some hate them. I’m somewhere in between. I’ve never been good at filling in someone else’s idea of what my characters need to have, so I change the template to include what is important to me. I actually end up adding way more than are originally listed. However, the sheets are a good starting point and get the mind churning. Don’t worry, not everything I put on a character sheet makes it into the manuscript. In fact, most of it does not. As the author, it is my job to know my characters history. I will only give the reader the parts relevant to the story.
Character sheets are also invaluable when cataloging specific traits. Characters become more three dimensional as we write. As new facts emerge, I jot them down so they can be easily found later and ensure consistency throughout the manuscript. Nothing is worse than when a reader finds preventable mistakes.
The first questions I ask myself about my characters are age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. These sound like easy questions, but I assure you, they are not. The answers mold EVERYTHING about the novel. They determine category (MG/YA/NA/Adult), research (Are you any of these things? Do you know anyone similar who will consult/critique for you?), target audience, and marketability. No pressure. Sure, things can be changed later if you HAVE to. But it is a massive amount of work. Taking the time to think hard about the story in the beginning will pay off. After I determine those basics, I follow up with height, weight, hair color, eye color, scars, tattoos, etc.
Time to pick a name. Does a name reflect a person or does a person reflect a name? I think a little of both. On my bookshelf is a baby name book I like to thumb through as I say names aloud. After a few catch my eye (and ear), I turn to the internet for origins and meanings before making a final decision.
The last tool I use for character development is not a common one. Keep in mind, I’ve been thinking about these people a lot by now and have an idea of what their strengths and flaws are. From those, I unlock their personality. Using C. G. Jung’s theory on personalities, I determine their Myers-Briggs personality type. This leads to answers about motivations, working styles, how they interact with people, etc. At this point, the rest of their development flows for me. If you haven’t researched personalities, I recommend the book Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey. Also, there are several sites to take a personality test and review personality types. The one I prefer is 16personalites.com.
Finally, I unravel their history. Where were they born? Where did they grow up? What made them into who they are on the page in front of me?
Now, the actual writing begins. I may not solve all the mysteries before I start, but I know I’m headed in a clear direction.