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How to write your novel: Character development

Do you daydream constantly? Do you have a stash of journals you write in? Are you always brainstorming? Well, if you answered yes to any or all of these questions, character development should be a breeze.

When I’m planning a novel, I think about my protagonists and what their key characteristics are. I ask myself questions about what they look like, what their dreams/goals are and whether they have any hobbies. I also ask myself about their personality, whether they have any pets and where they live.

In the novel I’ve recently completed, there are three main characters (it’s multiple point-of-view) and I’ve brainstormed about each of them. In some cases, the character reveals themselves to you as you write through dialogue, thoughts, feelings and reactions to other characters, which is fine, but it’s important to have some idea about what they’re like before you start.

Do your characters speak to you?

Here is a list of characteristics you should think about when creating characters:

  • Hobbies
  • Strengths/weaknesses
  • Dreams/goals and anything that might get in the way of these
  • Fears/insecurities
  • Character flaws (We all have them and so must they)
  • Health/illnesses (including mental health)
  • Appearance
  • Age
  • Dietary issues
  • Pets
  • Siblings (how many, how old they are, what their names are)
  • Parents (occupation, personalities, any particular issues they may have with one or both of them)
  • Children
  • Occupation/studies
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse

There are many more categories you could add to this list, but if you start with these, it should be helpful. On a practical level, I put my character’s name in the middle of the page and draw a spider diagram, where I list all the elements about the person I can think of.

You might be a pantser (make the story up as you go) rather than a plotter (plan the story before you begin) or a combination of the two, but it pays dividends to get to know your characters before you begin a massive project like a novel. Their quirks and flaws will help drive the plot anyway and if your characters are relatable and realistic, people will want to keep reading!

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