Beginning a New Adventure: Character Study

now playing on my iPod: The Weight of Love by Snow Patrol

Bass player, mohawk, has some mommy issues,

Art lover, illiterate, feels in color,

Rich as hell, oddly humble, needy in relationships,

Choose your characters well. (Feel free to sing to tune of Ten Little Indians)

Before you begin a story, you need to know your characters. One way writers get personal with their MCs, sidekicks, and bad guys is to do a character study*. Ready? Well, crank some moody music and grab a pen.

Snag a piece of legal paper or, better yet, a poster. In each corner, write the name of the character’s family members and/or sidekicks. Under those names, throw out some feelings the character holds for those people and why. Don’t bother with complete sentences. Let it flow. Make it messy.

Next, somewhere near the top, write the one experience (in the time leading up to your story) that most impacted the character.

Draw a fat circle around the center of the poster/paper. All along the edges, write your character’s hobbies, favorite bands and books, talents, and shortcomings.

Pick a name for your character and write it in the center. Don’t fret if you don’t know the name yet. This is your study, you can scratch stuff out anytime you like. You are the boss! If you do have a name, write what the name means and/or if the name harkens back to his/her family heritage or upbringing. If her name is Pineapple, the reader is going to wonder what drugs her parents’ enjoyed. If his name is Anchor (I went to school with an Anchor. Seriously.), we can guess what type of hobby to which he has, at the very least, been exposed. 

At the bottom, write three words that describe your character. Draw a lightning bolt over the most important one. (Okay, the bolt is optional. Actually, all of this is optional. I already told you: you’re the boss!)

Turn the paper over. Write your antagonist’s name in the center. Do a page like the above for him/her/them. Now highlight the things on the antagonist’s study that hurt/annoy/destroy the MC. Develop more tension between them. Grind it ’til you find it. If your MC likes quiet and control, make your ant push for wildness. But don’t forget to give them something in common. You’ll need it to draw sympathy for your antagonist at some point in your tale–always a strong move.

I urge you to do a study for every character, major and minor. It will lend depth to your story and expose any unrealistic motivations in your characters’ actions. Some characters are meant to stay the same and others must grow into more mature versions of themselves.

It’s your decision who does what. Now quit playing on Twitter and get to work! (Oh, wait. That was me…)

Good luck, writers! 


*But remember, this study will only be a guide as you begin your manuscript. If your characters veer away from who you thought they were, that’s okay! Just make certain their personalities are consistent throughout the story or change in realistic ways due to their experiences.  

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3 Responses to Beginning a New Adventure: Character Study

  1. Lexa Cain says:

    I work out my characters’ arcs before I write. I know their hopes, fears, and goals, but never really get too detailed in the first draft. Then I work on each subsequent revision to show more details in their personalities — but only those that complement the plotline. If there’s a character trait that doesn’t work within the novel – it’s out!

    • I’m with you. It’s amazing how your characters “talk” to you during writing. Oftentimes, they tell me I’m wrong about them and there’s no way they’d act like this or that. Love it. It’s great that you are willing to cut what doesn’t work.

  2. Pingback: Playing with characters and voice | Write, and be free

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