You’re probably here because you love great characters in great books. You know character development is important because you’ve spent decades as a reader rooting for, worshiping, and shipping your favorite characters. But now, you’re creating your own character and the stakes feel impossibly high.
It’s not easy to create dynamic, meaningful characters, but we’re here to help you get unstuck and come out the other side with a great protagonist.
We’ve got four fixes for you, from basic to intensive. Find where you need to put the work in, do the fix, and get back to writing.
Fix #1: What Does Your Character Want?
Ask yourself a simple question: what does your character want?
You likely know what tangible desire your character seeks. Something like a magical ring, a potion to restore their ailing mother, a portal to another realm, or some other easy-to-understand item.
Push past those quest-focused elements, and dig deeper into what your character really wants or needs. It’s not a thing, it’s an emotion.
- Do they want to be validated as a greater witch than their sister?
- Do they long to return to the innocence of childhood?
- Will they only be satisfied when they have control over their life?
If you can’t answer this question on behalf of your MC, pull out a notebook. To get to the bottom of how they’ll act and why in each scene, we need to know what their end goal is and what motivates them.
Here’s a helpful video to think about what drives a character:
Fix #2: Create a character aesthetic
While creating your character, if you’re getting stuck on the basics of what tone to strike, this is a good method for you. It also works especially well for visual learners.
Creating character aesthetics helps you fill in the blanks and gain a better sense of who your character is.
Even if you think you don’t know a lot about your character, you’ll be surprised at the level of criteria your brain already has developed regarding your character. For instance, if you see a set of eight photos of houses, you’ll instinctually know which places your character would never live in.
Here are 3 different aesthetics for 3 different characters in my novel, It’s Over or It’s Eden. Click on an image to see more detail.
Fix #3: Fill Out Character Sheets
Character sheets are like intake forms for your character. They prompt you to consider certain elements and bundle all the information in one place to make it easy to refer back to.
Nicole designed a great set of character sheets for our “Building A Story” package. Whereas many character sheets focus on eye color and shoe type, Nicole’s focus on the driving psychology behind the character. If you’re interested in learning more, read about our coaching and contact us to set up a free conversation to discuss whether our “Building a Story” package will take you where you need to go.
Fix #4: Write a Back Scene
Your character should have a pivotal moment in their history when the BIG THING happened. You know, a life-altering experience in childhood that propels them on their journey.
Lisa Cron of Story Genius suggests writing to find your character’s misbelief, a misconception about how life works that that formed early in their life and which comes back to haunt them in the plot of the book.
For example, Jon Snow’s misbelief is that his life is limited by the circumstances surrounding his birth.
Because our characters are all people on a growth journey, it makes sense there’s a point in their lives when something happened to make them develop this original misbelief.
To do this: 1. Figure out what your character’s big misconception about life is, 2. Write a defining moment from their past when this misconception took root in one paragraph, 3. Turn that paragraph into a scene, 4. Analyze how this will come into play throughout your book (ie. How are they fighting against that misconception?).
Good luck with creating your character! If you’re looking for additional free story help, either check out our blog post Worldbuilding Tips for Science Fiction Authors, or sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page and get our free guide, 25 Questions to Ask Your Manuscript.