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How To Develop Characters When Writing A Novel
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How to Develop Characters When Writing A Novel

A key part of writing a novel is developing characters. The best characters are the ones readers care about, cheer for, and even think about long after they’ve put down the book. These are the kinds of characters that hold the reader’s attention and impel them to turn the next page.

You can find inspiration for your character just about anywhere. People you see on the street, photographs, or old memories of people you’ve known all can provide a starting point for a character. Developing that idea into a character takes some effort. Start by naming the person.

Start by thinking about who this person will be in your story. Are they the hero or heroine? The villain or a minor player?

Then write a physical description of the person. Be as specific as you can and go beyond the obvious facts of height, weight, hair and eye color. Think about what features you will give this person: glasses, tattoos, birthmarks, a mustache or beard, hair style, build. Go further and specify how they walk (for example, athletic or dainty) or if they have some nervous mannerisms, like stroking a beard or twisting a ring.

Then think about personality. What are their biggest fears? Favorite foods or music? What are their dreams? Character flaws? Religious or political beliefs? Prejudices?

Now write a short biography and cover key events in their life. What was their family like? Do they have brothers or sisters? Did they ever get married? Have children?

What will they learn during the time your novel takes place? How will they change or grow (or decline)?

Write all this down for all of your characters. If they are a minor person in the story, you need less detail. But you still want to have something that makes them human, rather than a prop.

Have all these details figured out in advance is important for three major reasons. The most important is consistency. Your readers will not buy it if two thirds of the way into your novel the vegetarian heroine suddenly orders ribs for dinner. Unless your plot has her questioning why she is a vegetarian or has some other explanation, this scene will not be believable.

Additionally, having all these details written down and organized will help you keep your facts straight. If you have two minor characters, one born in 1951 and the other in 1971, your notes will help you keep them straight and won’t have the wrong one witnessing an anti-Vietnam war protest.

The third reason is for efficiency. If you have a good start on your character development before you start writing, you won’t have to keep stopping to think about what people look like or what they would reasonably order for dinner.

As with any craft, learning to write well takes work. Putting some effort into developing characters so that when you are writing your novel, you can create the ones readers won’t forget.


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