Have you Created Characters or Caricatures?

Are you creating characters or caricatures? Author Kristen Kieffer shares the secret to well-developed characters on the She's Novel blog!

Welcome back to our mini blog series, writer!

Every Friday in the month of October, we're breaking down a topic that will help us create irresistible heroes and villains. Need to catch up on the series before we get started?

  • Click here to learn The #1 Key to Creating Relatable Main Characters!
  • Click here to learn The #1 Key to Creating Believable Villains!

All caught up? Fantastic!

In today's series installment, we're going to talk about how to create truly well-developed characters–characters that seem so real that readers often forget that they aren't.

So are you ready to say goodbye to paper-thin caricatures and hello to irresistible and unforgettable characters? Let's get started with today's tips!

 

It's time to ask yourself six questions...

When creating any character that gets at least a moderate amount of page time–be it your hero or villain, a sidekick, a mentor, whoever–it's important to ask yourself six big questions...if you want to create well-developed characters, that is.

So what are these magical questions? *ahem*
 

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. Why?
  4. How?
  5. Where?
  6. When?


Say, whaaat?! Is creating well-developed characters really as simple as that? Well, yes and no.

Creating characters that are more than just caricatures is a bit of a tedious process, but it can be done. We simply need to break down each of these six questions in-depth until we not only know our characters inside and out, but–more importantly–their purpose and relevance to the story.

Don't worry! I'm not going to leave you to fend for yourself. 

For each of these six key questions, I am going to provide you with a series of smaller thought-provoking questions and helpful links. Let's get started!

 

WHO is your character?
 

  • What is your character's name?
  • How does their name reflect their backstory/heritage or add importance to the story?
  • What does your character look like? Learn more.
  • Do any of their physical aspects affect how they live or how they are treated by others?
  • Where does your character live? In what circumstances?
  • What was your character's upbringing like?
  • How does your character's upbringing affect their present life/mindset?
  • Who are your character's family members?
  • Who has had the most influence on your character's life? How so?
  • Who is your character closest to? What are those relationships like?
  • Who does your character despise? Why?
  • What is your character's personality like? Learn more.
  • How does your character's personality affect their interactions and lifestyle?
  • What are some of your character's core beliefs?
  • What makes your character happy, sad, angry, annoyed, etc? Learn more.
  • What are your character's hopes, fears, and regrets? Learn more.

 

WHAT does your character want?

 

  • Is your character unhappy at the beginning of your story? Learn more.
  • What are they unhappy or unsatisfied with? What is their everyday life lacking?
  • What does your character want more than anything in the world? Learn more.
  • What is holding your character back from working to achieve that goal?
  • What event or change in circumstance would encourage or force your character to chase down that goal?
  • How do your character's family, friends, and/or co-workers feel about their desire to achieve their goal?

 

WHY does your character want to achieve their goal?

 

  • Has your character always wanted to achieve their goal?
  • Was your character forced/coerced into working toward their goal?
  • What event or circumstance inspired your character's goal? Learn more.
  • What is the reward for your character if they achieve their goal?
  • Does anyone else benefit if your character achieves their goal? How so?

 

HOW will your character achieve their goal?

 

  • What steps will your character take to achieve their goal? Learn more.
  • Who will help your character achieve their goal? How will they help? Learn more.
  • What would make your character give up on their goal?
  • What would make your character's helpers stop aiding them?
  • What setbacks/challenges might your character face as they work towards their goal?
  • What emotional/mental hurdles must your character overcome to achieve their goal?
  • How might your character react to challenges and conflicts in their journey?
  • How might tension form between your character and their helpers because of your character's goal or method of achieving that goal?
  • What will your character do if they do not achieve their goal?
  • How might your character's failure affect their physical and/or mental state?
  • How might achieving their goal affect your character's physical and/or mental state?

 

WHERE will your character's journey take them?
 

  • Where does your character live when your story begins? Learn more.
  • Why do they live in this place?
  • What are some key physical and social markers of the place where your character lives?
  • How does your character's living situation affect their happiness?
  • Will the steps your character takes to achieve their goal lead them to new places?
  • What are some key physical and social markers found in these new places?
  • How will these new places expand your character's perspective and/or world view?
  • How might these new places provide physical roadblocks your character will have to overcome in order to achieve their goal?
  • If your character stays in the same place while working to achieve their goal, how will their journey affect how they view their surroundings?

 

WHEN will your character be truly happy/satisfied?

 

  • Will achieving their goal make your character truly happy/satisfied?
  • What does your character's idea of happiness/satisfaction look like?
  • Might your character's idea of happiness/satisfaction change after they achieve their goal?
  • Can your character find happiness/satisfaction if they do not achieve their goal?
  • Is there something your character actually needs to find happiness/satisfaction that they don't realize when they begin their journey?
  • When and how will your character overcome their mental/emotional hurdles? 
  • When will your character's journey draw to a close?

 

What do these six questions tell us?

Six big questions. Infinite tiny questions. Lots of brain-wracking and too many cups of coffee.

Is all of the hard work you'll put into answering these questions actually worth it? In my opinion and experience, absolutely.

Think about it. From this exercise, you've learned:
 

  1. Who your character is...
  2. What their life is like...
  3. What their story goal is...
  4. How they will get dragged into the main arc of your story...
  5. Some action steps they'll take during the main arc...
  6. What conflicts they may encounter during their journey...
  7. What inner hurdles they'll have to overcome by the end of the story...
  8. What their end game looks like...
  9. How you can create a satisfying resolution for that character...

 
By creating a well-developed character, you've not only gotten to know your character and their relevance to the story; you've built the building blocks of your plot!

Repeat this exercise for all of the main and secondary characters in your novel, and you'll have all of the information you need to create an absolutely stellar cast of well-developed characters and a gripping plot to boot. 

That's what we call a #win/win, folks. So let's do this!


Let's Chat!


What do you think of this method for creating well-developed characters? I hope you enjoy using it as you prepare your NaNoWriMo novel or work to pre-write your next big project.

You can even complete this exercise before editing to give yourself a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your first draft!

Have any questions or comments about this six-question exercise? Come take part in the discussion below. I'll see you next Friday for the next installment in our irresistible heroes + villains blog series!


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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!

Kristen is the author of the upcoming The Books of Maveryn series and The Astral Series, as well as several non-fiction books for writers.