Writer’s block. If you’ve been writing fiction for any time at all, it’s an evil you know entirely too well. Even the best ideas will sometimes flow into this invisible wall. Character development is one way to get passed that wall.
One reason why some author’s end up stuck with writer’s block is that they do not know their main and supporting characters as well as they should. Never fear, this post will highlight five things you can do to get to know your character better. There’s even a free printable at the end to help you along. It’s completely fillable, so you don’t even have to print it to fill it out.
Most of this post will refer to main characters (MC), but the thoughts and questions should be applied to all the major characters in your work in progress (WIP).
5 Ways To Get To Know Your fiction Characters
1. Getting to Know You
How well do you know the character you are writing about? There is more to strong characters than names and physical descriptions.
For the sake of simplicity, we will use my main character today from Getting Home, Tom Jacobs. He is weighing heavily on my mind right now as I am in the process of working on a heavy revision of the novel.
The first step in character development is to learn a little about Tom as you would a new friend. Where does he work? What type of work does he do? What are his best and worst qualities? If he could have any job, what would it be?
These are simple questions, but an important foundation to the character you are writing about.
In Getting Home, the book starts with Tom working for a company in their marketing department. He is also a part-time student working toward a degree. It may feel unimportant to know these simple facts, but in Tom’s case, knowing a bit about his workaholic tendencies gives the reader some insight into his personality. Not to mention, his work and school career tell the reader quite a bit about his family dynamic.
Author’s Note: If you are interested in reading Getting Home, please hold off a little while until the revision is complete. I will be running a free book promotion once it’s complete.
2. We Are Family
Next, you want to figure out the supporting characters in your main character’s life. Rarely can a character exist in a solitary state. Even when they can, backstory is still a vital concept. The character has not always been solitary and at least has parents in his past. Plus, there needs to be dialog. Think Wilson in Castaway. A good story has to have at least some dialog.
Spending time in public, even though many writers prefer a solitary life, is a great way to invigorate your writing. People watching, if you are careful to do it in a non-creepy way, can give you tremendous fodder to help flesh-out your book’s characters.
Pick a location like a local coffee shop or busy restaurant. My go-to is Panera Bread. It’s an easy place to spend a couple hours with your laptop where you won’t garner much attention. There tends to be a lot of foot traffic to keep you full of fresh ideas.
The reason for the public location is that you will want to get to know your character in a real world setting. Putting him in a world different than you are writing about will help speed character development.
Imagine your MC sitting at one of the tables of the restaurant with the real person (people) currently sitting at that table. Does your MC have a significant other? Do they have children? What type of relationship do they have with their parents? Do any of these subjects come up as they sit at that table?
Each question will get you one step closer to defining who your character really is on the inside.
For Tom, he has a strained relationship with his parents, one that only gets more complicated as his story continues. He’s not close to his sister and really not even close to his wife, or at least not at the start.
3. Feeling Good
Next, let’s dive a little deeper into your MC’s mind and heart. How would he/she feel sitting at the table right now? What thoughts would be going through his/her mind? Would they be interested in the conversation taking place at that table?
Consider also other things your MC might be feeling in that moment. What are three things they are grateful for? What last made them sad? When did they last cry? Were they alone or with someone as they cried?
Each question teaches you a little more about your protagonist and further develops your creative writing. Every little step makes your MC a more fleshed out idea that will have depth and will resonate with your readers.
In terms of character development, Tom was frequently depressed. Most of his life, he struggled with addiction and feelings or worthlessness, but just like in real life, feelings can change, and so did his. In fact, he goes through a whole range of emotions in the course of the book.
4. The Future Is Bright
A common problem with creative writing is that writers sometimes get stuck in a moment. After all, that’s the moment you are writing about in your novel, so isn’t that where you should be?
Yes and no.
Of course, you want to be fully present in the moment to write the best fiction scene possible. However, you need to remember that readers are looking at your MC as a total person. Every person has a past and at least some hopes or fears about the future. What is your MC thinking about?
Decide from where you are right now in your work in progress, where does your MC want to be in five years? Ten Years? Twenty years? Giving your MC aspirations makes him more relatable and realistic.
What are three things or so on your MC’s bucket list? Which item is more important? Why?
Sometimes it helps to consider these questions about yourself first, just to get in the future mindset. When you know where you are going, it’s easier to determine where you want your MC to go.
From Getting Home, Tom was looking for his home. His bucket list consisted of one thing: Find home and get there. You’ll have to read the book to see if he gets there.
5. Back To The Real World
Next, let’s go back to where you are sitting right now, hopefully in some public place with lots of people. Imagine your MC walking in and sitting down with someone who is already seated. How do they know this person? Are the friends? Why or why not?
Safety note: Be careful to not look at a person too long. You never want to garner attention from a stranger or appear creepy.
Next, watch for the next person to enter the area. That person is friends with your MC. What does your MC like or not like about that person? How would your MC describe their relationship?
Tom was a great person for me to play this game with. He was very likable and got along with others easily, so he was always running into friends or making new ones.
Your Turn at Character Development
Now it’s your turn to work on character development. To help you with your task, I have created a free, six-page worksheet with questions you can ask yourself about your main character. The worksheet can be printed or used as is since it’s a fillable PDF document. Be sure to save it if you use the fillable option.
Writer’s block doesn’t have to be a problem. Hopefully this printable worksheet is a tool you can add to your author toolbox to keep it at bay and improve your creative writing and character development.
Please let me know how the worksheet works for you. This is a new adventure for me in developing printables, so I’d like to know what works well and what doesn’t.
Until next time…