Characters are one of the most important aspects of storytelling. But how do you go about developing the right characters for your story? This question seems to be one of the more popular questions on writing forums and it’s easy to see why. Just like how there are an infinite amount of ways to write a story, there are infinite possibilities for the characters who inhabit our fictional worlds.
Honestly, characters are one of the hardest parts of writing novels for me. Trying to create a being on paper that reads as being real is something that requires a lot of practice, patience, and words on the page before you’ll succeed. With that said though, I’d like to talk about some ways of developing characters that I’ve tried during this writing journey.
The questionnaire is a popular way to get to know your characters. These lists have everything from who the character’s immediate family is to what type of wine they enjoy. There’s tons of resources available online that are pre-made and easy to access for those who want to know absolutely everything about a character.
These lists can be a handy reference guide during editing, because you know exactly how your character is supposed to act and look, which helps prevent forcing the story through hoops it shouldn’t be going through. Incidentally, the questionnaire can also act as a brainstorming tool during the draft by allowing you to expand on their likes, dislikes, family life, desires, and fears, all of which are already laid out for you.
The downside to the questionnaire is that they are what they are: facts. Without some imagination and visualization, your character could end up flat and lifeless. Even so, this is a great approach for people who are just starting to write stories.
The Snowflake Method
The Snowflake Method for developing characters is pretty plot-focused, but interesting. Unlike many other methods, the Snowflake Method has you alternate between figuring out the plot and the characters, which makes for a particularly svelte character sheet.
The sheet itself is pretty simple, with the character’s name, role in the story, inner and physical motivation, and a summary of their storyline that grows from one paragraph to a whole page. I’ve used this on a novella and it does a really great job of pinning down a character fast.
The downside is that it doesn’t leave a bunch of room for development as you go. Changing up a character is easier said than done because the character and plot are melded so closely together. Still, I do a form of this character sheet whenever I’m really stuck with a story arc and it helps a lot.
I…always kind of thought this development method was a bit hokey until recently. The Interview is a method where you interview your characters about themselves, the story, whatever. Through these interviews, you get a feel for the characters’ voice, attitude, and what makes them tick as a person.
I used this method with my current WIP and was pleasantly surprised. A main character that had been giving me tons of problems opened right up once I decided to interview them. The format gives you a character to embody (as the interviewer) and, as a result, lets you focus solely on your character’s voice, without your own take on things interfering. This is a great way to develop characters if you’re a more organic storyteller.
The downside to this method is that sometimes you lose what you were talking about. In the interview I had with my main character, I went from wanting to know what she did for a living to asking about her family, friends, and what parts of the story were scariest for her. I still don’t know what she does for a living, but I got other information that could be just as, if not more, useful.
So, there are my top three ways to develop characters. There’s several other ones as well and I’ll try to cover those in another post. What ways would you like me to discuss? What methods have worked for you? Let me know in the comments!