Characters: It’s Alive!

You’ve got your idea. You’ve done your brainstorming. Now it’s time to find the pieces you need to bring your characters to life!

Characters fall into three categories:

  • the protagonist,
  • the antagonist,
  • and supporting characters.

The Protagonist

The protagonist is generally your main character or characters that are “the stars” of your novel. Most of the time your protagonist will have a mission, goal, journey, or something to overcome.

The Antagonist

The antagonist is the “villain” of your novel. The antagonist can be a physical antagonist that is physically thwarting or causing conflict for your character. The antagonist can also be an “abstract antagonist”, which is an antagonist that is not a living, breathing being, but something abstract like illness, grief, poverty, a society, religion, nature, or a corrupt government or business.

Supporting Characters

The main task of your supporting characters is to support your protagonist throughout the novel towards his goal or on his journey. Supporting characters can be friends, close relatives, love interests, etc. Sometimes supporting character also have their own little subplots which can add to your novel and word count.

How Do You Develop Your Characters Details?

Generally, when you start writing your novel, you have a notion of your characters’ personalities and how they react to certain scenarios. But sometimes you get stumped.

I know I always end up stopping my writing because I haven’t figured out something about my character beforehand. So instead of working on my main novel, I end up staring at a wall wondering if my character likes Lucky Charms or not. To prevent that from happening this year, I am planning to fill out Character Questionnaires or Character Sheets. I see it as a little cheat sheet about your characters.

The Character Questionnaire is probably one of the best way to develop your character without having to write anything in your novel. It is a great list of questions that gets you to start thinking of the tiny details that makes your character unique. Of course, you don’t have to answer every single question. Some of these questions might not even apply to your genre.

Also it is recommended that you make a character sheet for EVERY one of your prominent characters.

This Character Sheet is taken from the High school, YWP Workbook.

Section One:

  1.  Name:
  2.  Age:
  3. Height:
  4. Eye color:
  5. Physical appearance:
  6. Strange or unique physical attributes:
  7. Favorite clothing style/outfit:
  8. Where does he or she live? What is it like there?
  9. Defining gestures/movements i.e., curling his or her lip when he or she speaks, always keeping his or her eyes on the ground, etc.):
  10. Things about his or her appearance he or she would most like to change:
  11. Speaking style (fast, talkative, monotone, etc.):
  12. Pet peeves:
  13. Fondest memory:
  14. Hobbies/interest:
  15. Special skills/abilities:
  16. Insecurities:
  17. Quirks/eccentricities:
  18. Temperament (easygoing, easily angered, etc.):
  19. Negative traits:
  20. Things that upset him or her:
  21. Things that embarrass him or her:
  22. This character is highly opinionated about:
  23. Any phobias?
  24. Things that make him or her happy:
  25. Family (describe):
  26. Deepest, darkest secret:
  27. Reason he or she kept this secret for so long:
  28. Other people’s opinions of this character (What do people like about this character? What do they dislike about this character?):
  29. Favorite bands/songs/type of music:
  30. Favorite movies:
  31. Favorite TV shows:
  32. Favorite books:
  33. Favorite foods:
  34. Favorite sports/sports teams:
  35. Political views:
  36. Religion/philosophy of life:
  37. Physical health:
  38. Dream vacation:
  39. Description of his or her house:
  40. Description of his or her bedroom:
  41. Any pets?
  42. Best thing that has ever happened to this character:
  43. Worst thing that has ever happened to this character:
  44. Superstitions:
  45. Three  words to describe this character:
  46. If a song played every time this character walked into the room, what song would it be?

Section Two: Supporting Character Questions

  1. Relationship to the protagonist:
  2. Favorite thing about the protagonist:
  3. Similarities to protagonist:
  4. Differences from protagonist:

Section Three: Antagonist Question

  1. Why is he or she facing off against the protagonist?
  2. Any likeable traits?
  3. Weaknesses:

Section Four: Abstract Antagonist

  1. What is your abstract antagonist? Is it a disease like cancer, a social ill like poverty, or something larger than life, like grief?
  2. How is this antagonist affecting the protagonist?
  3. Do other characters notice? How does this antagonist affect the other people in your novel?

Warning: Characters are interesting things. Sometimes you can put together your character and bring it to life. But beware! Sometime it will have a mind of its own!

A Storm is Brewing in Your Brain

Now that you have that novel idea, it’s time for the fun part! Brainstorming! Brainstorming is my favorite part of noveling. This is where you get to start developing that “what if” idea.

Brainstorming according to Merriam-Webster is:

 : a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; also : the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem

According to that definition, you have a problem that needs to be solved. That problem is your novel, and you’ll solve it with a story. So we’ve got our idea now we need to figure out the Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

Who?

Who are your characters? Characters in a story generally include:

  • protagonist(s)
  • antagonist(s)
  • supporting character(s)

Identifying them is just the basics. The fun part is when you start fleshing out your characters, which I will expand on in my next post.

What?

What is your plot? For every good fiction novel there is a plot or a conflict that your character faces. And what is your character’s goal. Usually this goal is what leads him into this conflict in the first place.

Conflict is the keyword here. Conflict is what drives your characters to do what he needs to do, whether it’s to save the world, drive across the country, or just get out of bed, there needs to be something thwarting them or giving them a challenge.

So remember Conflict!

When and Where?

I am going to combine When and Where because both of these questions deal with setting and location.

“When” is important since if your character has a time deadline to get something done, a time constraint will affect your plot and your character’s action and choices. If you are setting your story in a historical or future time period, this will also affect how your characters will act, dress, and speak.

“Where” is of course very important because a setting can provide more conflict and obstacles for your character as he tries to attain his goals. Also having a clear setting and location helps in developing your character’s background.

Why?

Why? Is always the big question. Why would our character do what he does? Why does he want to save to world? Why does he want to drive across the country? Why does he want to get out of bed? Why? Why? Why?!

Asking “why” forces you to dig deeper into your plot, and usually it will lead you to your ending or your character’s ultimate goal.

How?

Now you know “why” your character is doing what he’s doing, but you also need to know how will your character resolve this conflict?

I know figuring out the beginning and end is usually the easiest part, but getting TO the end is the hardest part. I have this problem every year!

However, having an idea on how your character will save the world or finally get out of bed gives you a way to fill that empty space between the beginning and the end of your novel.

Here’s an example of this brainstorm exercise of the 5W + 1H:

 

Cinderella (Disney Version)

Who?

  • Cinderella
  • Lady Tremaine
  • Anastasia Tremaine
  • Drizella Tremaine
  • Fairy Godmother
  • Prince Charming
  • Jacques (Jaq)
  • Octavius (Gus)
  • Lucifer
  • Various Friendly Animals.

I sure I’m missing a bunch of minor characters, but it has been a while since I’ve sat down and watched Cinderella.

What?

  • Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but her wicked stepmother and stepsisters prevent her from going by giving more than necessary chores and destroying her dress.

Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsister cause the conflict for Cinderella, preventing her from going to the ball along with making her life miserable. There is also a minor character story conflict between the mice and the cat.

When? Where?

  • 1800s
  • France
  • Cinderella’s house/garden
  • Prince Charming’s castle

I honestly have no idea where Cinderella is located other than “Fairy-Tale Land”, but I’m taking a wild guess and say France in the 1800s according to how to costumes are drawn.

Why?

Why does Cinderella need to go to the ball?

  • Cinderella just wants to get out of the house and go to a fancy ball for once and maybe even dance with the prince.
  • If Cinderella goes to the ball, the prince will see her and fall in love with her, which will cause her to lose her glass slipper. In turn, this results in Prince Charming searching for her with her slipper and eventually their happily ever after ending.

How?

How does Cinderella try to get to the ball?

  • First, Cinderella tries to get all her chores done in time, and her animal friends pull together and make her a pretty dress for the ball, but that gets ruined by her wicked sisters.
  • But Cinderella manages to go to the ball because her fairy godmother makes an appearance and gives her a ballgown.

As you can see this brainstorming exercise is not an outline, facts and information are all over the place. This is just a good way to get your ideas down on paper/screen. I would recommend making an outline after you have most of your details fleshed out.

Unless you’re a pantser (“seat of your pants” pantser and not an actual pantser), then you’d just go with what comes to you!

Now it’s your turn to try it with your novel idea! I find that doing this type of brainstorming eventually helps when I start outlining for my book since a lot of the main ideas are already on paper.

November is Coming! Where Do I Even Begin?!

It’s October 1st! We’re now 30 days away from the start of NaNoWriMo! Some of us are itching to start writing. Some of us are still ignoring our plot bunnies. Some of us are still trying to decide if we should continue with the epic saga we started last year or start a new story. Regardless of your mindset, November is Coming and with November it’s NaNoWriMo!

Last year we had Prep-time sessions in October during the weekends. This year we’re not having any in-person prep sessions, but we’re going to post prep-tips here for anyone who needs the extra help!

Even though the YWP Workbooks are for “Young Writers”, we highly recommend these workbooks if you need help getting started or just need help getting your thoughts organized for the big month. In fact, a lot of tips we’ll be sharing here will come from the YWP workbooks. Other tips we share are from our own personal experiences. So we hope they are helpful to everyone.

For our first “session” let’s start at the very beginning!

You’ve decided that you want to do NaNoWriMo, or you’re still on the fence on taking up the challenge for the first time or the tenth time. But the one thing that gets us in this compromising position is that idea of “I want to write a novel!”

You Want to Write a Novel. Now What?

Before you can write your novel, you need a novel idea. It’s such an easy concept, but yet so difficult at the same time. Some people have a billion ideas, and they can’t decide on one. Some people have a great idea for a beginning but no end. Some have a great end and no beginning. Some have a great middle, but no beginning or end. Others have no idea what they want to write at all!

DON’T PANIC! It’s okay. We’re in October. You still have time! However, it is not uncommon for you to have a story idea you’ve been planning for the whole year, and the night before November 1st, you decide to write something completely different. Something you haven’t even prepared for, but it just has to be written. That is okay too!

Now how do you pick something to write about? Where do you even get ideas for a novel?

Ideas for stories can pop up anytime and anywhere, especially, when you least expect it, and most definitely, when you don’t have a pen and paper around to jot down your brilliant novel idea.

Things that I’ve always found inspiration for a novel subject include movies, music, books, television, people watching, a dream, a conversation, an object and etc. My most recent story idea came from listening to a podcast of all things.

Before hearing that podcast, I had no clue what I would be writing this November, but as I listened to the paranormal stories in this podcast, I started thinking “what if?”

“What if?”

That is the magic question. The sprouter of story ideas. “What if a zombie could fall in love?” “What if animals could talk?” “What if cookie monsters didn’t like cookies anymore?” “What if Oscar the Grouch decided to be nice one day?”

The “what ifs” I have here are pretty silly, but you get the picture.  Once you get your “what ifs” down, you get to pick the “what if” idea you like the most and move on to brainstorming!  The Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?