Developing characters

I am working on “step 1” of revising my manuscript, fixing/developing my characters. A few books I’ve looked at suggested starting here since it’s a springboard for the rest of the story. However, it’s daunting for me to start at this point, since I feel that creating sympathetic, readable characters is not my strength.

Bell, in his book Revision & Self-Editing, has some good ideas for fixing, focusing and strengthening your characters. However, I am interested in what others do to give their characters more interest and life.

  • What process do you use – before writing – to create a solid lead character?
  • What about the antagonist?
  • Have you ever used the lead’s own struggle as the antagonist, and not a real character?
  • Where do you start when trying to repair or fix characters you’ve already created?
  • Are there any tools you use?

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natasha
    Feb 28, 2010 @ 20:56:23

    I’ve used the character interview from K.M. Weiland.

    I tried to complete it for what was initially my main character in my NaNo novel and just by trying to answer the questions I filled in a lot of blanks in my story and back story so it’s been useful — although I think using it retrospectively probably isn’t as useful as using it before writing the initial draft.


    • kathanink
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 11:48:39

      I hear you! I just did a similar version to the character sketch you use and I am like, “why did I not do this beforehand?” I think it would have made at least this editing process miles easier. And my characters probably wouldn’t have been as thin as they are in the first draft. I’m definitely doing this from now on.


    • kathanink
      Mar 01, 2010 @ 12:07:31

      Somehow I missed that blog, btw – I am going to read it regularly, since she talks a great deal about characters (which I need help with!) – thanks!


  2. dayner
    Feb 26, 2010 @ 18:45:00

    I like creating characters. It’s one of my favorite part of writing. I can pick any person from my past and create a new character pretty easily. I’ve lived all over so I have lots to choose from. I have to say, too, that all of my protags have a little of me in them.
    All of my protags have internal and external conflicts, yes, they’re screwed up. 🙂
    For development I usually run the gamut of questions then I try out some dialogue. I also write a couple of journal entries as that character.


  3. darksculptures
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 14:06:55

    • What process do you use – before writing – to create a solid lead character? – Anything that works. Seriously, I take inspiration and ideas for everyone around me. I have the innate ability to attract very unusual “characters” into my real life and so many of my ideas for character development spring from the people I know.

    • What about the protagonist? – For the protag it is usually someone I know that desperately needs fixing! Then I change the sex, age, circumstances and anything that can make that character an identifiable person in my life.

    • Have you ever used the lead’s own struggle as the protagonist, and not a real character? Do you mean the antagonist? As in struggling against something internal instead of a person? If so, yes.

    • Where do you start when trying to repair or fix characters you’ve already created? – Beats me. I haven’t gotten that far in my revision yet. In fact I’m waiting on the world to tell me when to get started. LOL

    • Are there any tools you use? – I have used character maps and character interviews, but not the traditional standard. I really try to stay away from any method that may inadvertently develop a cardboard character. I did the Character Traits book I purchased from Writer’s Digest.


    • kathanink
      Feb 26, 2010 @ 14:24:21

      Um, yeah, I mean antagonist, which is dumb is to why I typed protag twice…duh!!

      Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re good at characters and thinking about them, so I appreciate your thoughts. Using some of the “crazies” in my life is a good way to think about some good characters. I also am studying some things about Isaac & Jacob in the Bible…that family really was so dysfunctional and I am finding some good fodder there, actually! 😀

      I might take a look at the Character Traits book, I think I need some help in trying to make the characters more deep, like real people and not cliches. Thanks, DS!


  4. grirova
    Feb 25, 2010 @ 11:59:55

    I tend to dwell so much on character development that other elements of my story sometimes suffer. I get rather attached to the characters I create and I enjoy thinking about them and dropping them into various scenarios in my head to see what they will do.
    I find that character development is much like plot development in that it requires an “outline.” I usually use a character questionnaire of some kind – there’s a million incarnations online or you can just write your own, tailored to your plot and characters. Answering questions about my characters’ backgrounds, likes and dislikes, dreams, morals, and beliefs helps me to get a sense of who they are…and then I can start writing about them and see what they all do.
    Sometimes they surprise me.
    Also, I must admit that I often think about traits of many different characters from fiction I admire. Then I combine those traits to make one super-awesome character!
    To “fix” already existing characters I would suggest writing some exercises about them. Write a scene about the MC when he or she is a child. Write about the family of the MC. Write about the worst thing the MC ever did. You might not use any of this in your actual novel but it will help the characters feel more real.


    • kathanink
      Feb 26, 2010 @ 14:20:27

      Thanks for visiting my blog! I am jealous of people like you who can come up with great, deep characters with no problem. That is not my strenght, really, so I appreciate your thoughts on how you do it.

      Yesterday I started using a character sketch form I had from a class and it really helped me to define my character and make him more “deep.” I was having a hard time especially with my lead, and I think his new character may take some parts of my story in a new direction….in a good way.



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