If you didn’t know, I LOOOOOOOOVE characters.
And I think they’re the most important part of a story. Now, just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s right. (Or does it???) But characters are SUPER important to me, and I feel that if you don’t have well-developed characters, your whole story fails.
Which is why I’m here to talk about developing characters!
I’m super excited because HELLO CHARACTERS ARE THE BEST THING EVER, and I get to talk to you guys on how to develop them! Of course, I am TOTALLY NOT a professional on this. I may have a different method than you, and that’s COMPLETELY OKAY.
I’ll just talk about the way that I develop characters (because I don’t really know any other way???)
(Actually, I’ll be listing some main parts that you need to have when you’re developing characters. Because I’m #nice like that.)
WHAT WRITER WOES IS
Writer Woes is a writing advice series brought to you by MOI (May). The advice given will be decided upon by whatever MOI (May) is currently suffering with. Because if she talks about her problems, there is a 97% chance that they will be solved. (The other 3% chance is that she’ll just end up agonizing over her life choices and ranting about all her other problems. #oops)
If you have requests for any advice you’d like to get, contact me through the form on my Contact page, or let me know in the comments.
Today’s advice will talk about the main aspects of developing characters. (All of it is important so listen.)
First of all, let me show you my planning process:
- INSPIRATION. Something inspires a story idea, and I begin to develop it.
- PLOT. I ALWAYS develop plot next. If I don’t have a plot, I don’t know my characters’ roles in the story, and I don’t know the setting of the world.
- CHARACTERS or SETTING. Really, it really doesn’t matter which one you develop first. However, deciding setting first may be more helpful (so you know a little part of the characters’ background).
- GO BACK AND MAKE BETTER. Go back and make everything MUCH MUCH BETTER.
I’ve… SORT OF figured out the plot of my current project. I mean. It’s generic and I need to fix it, but I’ve got the basic structure down.
But through my plotting, I had to have the characters. Now I know their roles in the story (and if you don’t… WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE—just kidding; keep reading), and that will help in developing your wonderful characters.
If you don’t have a plot yet, you cannot develop the characters! You’ll be creating a backstory for them… that has no relevance to the plot. The plot is the story and your characters have to be a part of it!
“But where do I start in this oh-so-scary process, May?” you might be asking. Well. READ ON.*
*Honestly I’m being so cringy today what is up with me.
Aka “backstory” but I wanted to be #exciting.
^^ What Google says backstory is.
The background history (hence BACKSTORY HAHAHAHA) of a character that tells where s/he came from and why s/he is who s/he today.
^^ What I say backstory is.
Mine is more complex and detailed and specific and ugh. But also punnier. (Therefore mine wins.)
Backstory is essentially why and how your character got to this place. It’s about their history and how it affects them now.
Okay, so basically it’s their past, but can’t I make things seem more dramatic???
For example, in my current novel, my character B (whose name is now Brecken WOOHOO!!!) is a hired killer. (What, it’s me. Everything’s #dark.) He works for the royalty, and Brecken kills anyone who annoys them or commits a crime or BASICALLY IS NOT LIKED BY THE ROYALTY.
But why did he become a killer? How? What was his past before this job? How did he feel when he first killed? Why is this such a big part of him now? Does he miss anything about his past life? Why?
These are the questions I’ll have to ask myself. It will be fun. I also need to find a new name for “killer” because I’m scaring people off.
Here are some questions to get you started (I told you I’m kind):
- What is the character’s past?
- What was s/he doing before this story?
- Would s/he rather be doing what s/he was doing in his/her past life? Why or why not?
- What are some events that led her/him to be who s/he is today? OR:
- What were some MAJOR events that happened in your character’s past that changed who they are/their life?
- How have they developed and changed over the years, and why?
- AND MANY MORE THAT I FAIL TO THINK OF
(Thanks to ma fren Julianna for helping me out with these questions. We all know I suck.)
appearance (+ general details)
“But May,” you might be saying, “how shallow is this??? Focusing on appearance before something like personality???”
Hush, yes I know. But creating the character’s appearance often makes it easier to just IMAGINE them. I mean they’re faceless blobs but at least they can be faceless blobs with brown hair, right.
And it also helps make them feel real.
Because sometimes I wonder if my characters are actually REAL people but of course they are???
For IMS, I did little character profiles for each character. Appearance-wise, they included:
- eye color (PS the most common eye color is brown so don’t be like me and make the characters all have a bajillion different eye colors)
- hair style + color
- skin color
- height (I struggled with accurately representing people and their heights, so now I’m just going to do “tall”, “medium”, or “short” #smart)
- weight (same note as above)
Then for general details I do age, gender, and personality. #WellThatWasShort
But also make sure to include specific details important to the story. For example, it’s important to know their parents, job, rank, LoI*, and DOB. So that’s why I included it in the profile. I’M HONESTLY SO SMART OMG.
Personality is SOOOOO important. Take ME for an example. Many of you have commented on the fact that they love hearing the sass and personality in my posts (which makes me SO SO HAPPY GUYS). You might not be so Emotionally Attached if I DIDN’T SPEAK IN CAPS (and used parentheses) and used lots of question marks, right???
Personality (and flaws but you’re getting ahead of yourself smh*) is what makes your character stand out. They’re different traits about the character that make them different.
I like to make my characters’ personalities as diverse as possible. For IMS, here’s what I had:
- ALAIRA: My smol child!!! Bitter, indifferent, hurt, sarcastic cold, cool, cruel.
- MERY: Sunshine child!!! Naïve, sweet, oblivious, kind, innocent, cheerful.
- RYET: Party rebel historian!** Loud, sassy, rebellious, outgoing, also cheerful.
- FYNN: ME BUT GENIUSER. Thoughtful, smart (duh), hardworking, curious, determined.
- CHISLON: …Brother??? Quiet, doesn’t like people (ME), curious, loyal.
See how they’re all different??? There are some overlapping qualities, but overall, they’re all QUITE different. Of course, it’s always good to have people who are similar, but also make sure they’re not TOO similar!
When developing your characters’ personalities, think of traits and characteristics that define them. You can also use backstory for this as well!
*This is an acronym but does anyone else just say “smuh” instead of the actual letters??? I’m sorry for my Random Thoughts.
**Again. Don’t ask.
This is probably THE MOST important thing when developing characters.
MAKE. SURE. THEY. HAVE. FLAWS.
If your characters have no flaws at all, they are not realistic! EVERY SINGLE ONE of us have flaws. Reading about flawless characters make us ANNOYED and we cannot relate to them.
And make sure they’re BIG flaws too! They just can’t be “falls every time s/he sees a bird”. Wut even.
I’m talking HUGE flaws. And because you guys love examples:
- ALAIRA: Afraid of love. (Not in romance, but like, FAMILY love. And FRIEND love. And also romance.)
- MERY: Too naïve.
- RYET: Wants to be the best (aka prove himself).
- FYNN: Afraid he is only his smarts (ME).
- CHISLON: Wants to be the hero.
When I say HUGE, I mean FATAL. And when I say FATAL, I mean THEY COULD DIE BECAUSE OF THEIR FLAW. It won’t kill them necessarily—my fear of love killed me!!!—but like if Chislon didn’t listen to warnings and went ahead and tried to steal something when they weren’t prepared*, that could cost him his life.
And because I’m SOOOO HELPFUL, here are the questions I ask to discover their flaw(s):
- What do they WANT?
- What do they NEED?
- How do these WANTS and NEEDS contradict each other?
- How does this form a FLAW?
WANT: Something they THINK they need. (Lie.)
NEED: Something they ACTUALLY need. (Truth.)
*This did not happen. Trust me. It did not. I swear it on my nonexistent dried mango stash.
CHECK OUT THIS AWESOME CHARACTER QUESTIONNAIRE!
It’s the one I try to fill out for all my characters… and horribly fail. IT’S LONG I TELL YOU. But soooooooo helpfuuuuuul. It’s full of all these details you wouldn’t have even THOUGHT of, and it makes me feel SO much closer to my characters! I SWEAR. IT’S MY FAVORITE.
(PS This was sent to me a long time ago by the dear Amelie—thank you!!!)
If you fill ALL of that out, you’ve basically developed your character. It’s that amazing.
(Except for the fact that it kind of skips over backstory but SHH I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING.)
i hoped you found this helpful! OBVIOUSLY i missed some points, so what other things are important when developing characters? do you like developing characters, plot, or setting more? do you say “smuh”? tell me about some of the writing projects you’re working on right now! and make sure to ask any questions you have!
PS I HAVE FIVE HUNDRED FOLLOWERS??? HALF OF 1K??? AM I DREAMING??? THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! ❤