Writing

How to Develop Great Characters

Today’s topic of interest is character outlining and development. Let’s dive in!

Character Development

Plot is crucial to good novels, but truly great works aren’t just plot-driven, they’re character-driven. The key to a phenomenal story is richly developed and flawed characters with depth.

To create characters that evoke strong reader reactions, you must have a strong foundation for not just your protagonist, but for your entire cast of characters, even those that provide supporting roles and “background noise.” While you certainly shouldn’t info dump every piece of information you build your characters up with (using too much information and background on minor characters, for example, leads the reader to believe supporting characters are more important to the story than they really are and creates imbalance), you as the writer will intrinsically write deeper characters having a full, rounded view of their lives and pasts.

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Before beginning your story, you should have a complete understanding of the following elements for each cast member:

Weaknesses:

Every character must have a weakness. Stories are about change, and change can’t occur unless there are characteristics that are flawed. Flaws facilitate, or stunt, growth, and that struggle not only makes the reader feel invested in your protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters and their journeys, but makes the story feel realistic.

Flaws in your main character can be presented as either psychological (those that hurt your protagonist) or moral (those that cause your protagonist to hurt others), or as a combination of the two. And while superficial flaws add depth (clumsiness, a bum leg, etc.), a deeper flaw should be present to move the story along and should ultimately be present in all of your characters, because they all believe they’re the protagonist of the story, anyway.

Goals:

Every character should exist because they want something. That desire propels the story along, and fighting the obstacles along the way creates conflict. And because the entire cast thinks they are the hero of your story, every character has a goal. For some, that may be to protect a friend, or go on an adventure, or to eliminate a perceived foe that threatens their livelihood or beliefs.

When your characters stop having goals, they’re dead weight and their story is over.

Wants:

Wants in your story should be, to your characters, the “thing that attaining their goal will fix”. However, just like in Disney’s remake of the Frog Prince, nine times out of ten your character will be dead wrong about that. Because they’re chasing their wants to fill the void in their lives, attaining their goals only leads to the realization that what they want is not, actually, what they need.

Needs:

Tying it all together, the characters have interior weaknesses causing them to need healing. By chasing their wants and achieving goals that only provide a Band-Aid to the void, they discover that what they truly need is deeper, and that the only way to fully heal is to change by confronting the truth and fixing the psychological or moral issue within themselves (which should also coincide with them confronting and “winning” an external plot element). Typically, this means confronting a deep-seated fear or past, or dealing with the very thing they hate and try to avoid.

Disney’s Tiana wants to buy the restaurant. She needs to allow herself to slow down and love and be loved. This realization helps her confront her past and her current situation (characterization), and become her “true self”, and she then becomes a changed person.

A fantastic story is one that shows these moving parts in every character to varying degrees.

“And they all knew what they wanted,
What they wanted me to do,
I told ’em what they needed,
Just like I be telling you.”

-Mama Odie, The Frog Prince

Creating a character chart: 

Because each character will differ from the rest in appearance, past, personality, attitude and traits, its useful to create a character chart for each. Again, not all of this information will be revealed to the reader, but it is useful to develop a good understanding of your characters that will inevitably bleed into your writing.

Useful information includes name, age, appearance (hair/eye color, skin tone, race, height, weight, build, distinguishing physical features), family information (members, relationship status and standing), childhood, fears, motivations, background information, financial status, attitude, talents, flaws, and favorite/least favorite preferences.

(Get our printable, fill-in free character chart and all of the current Master Lists for Novelists here!)

Takeaway:

Don’t put your characters into a box. There is no “good guy” or “villain”, just like in reality there is seldom only black and white, but instead varying shades of gray. Character development is the process of uncovering your cast and creating a realistic environment for your readers. Define them by their personalities and them define the roles they play. Allow them to be more than two-dimensional, breathe life into them and your readers will want to follow their stories.

How do your characters stack up? What’s an area of character development you need to work on to get the most out of your stories? Comment and let us know!freestocks-org-425059

Writing

Ways to Outline Your Novel

Thanks for joining us! Today we’re going to be discussing where most writers choose to begin their journey in writing fiction; the outline. (To streamline your outlining, download our free outline template pack here. For other free Novel Writing & Editing master list templates, sign up here!)

Writers are typically cast into two different camps on this topic. You have the “pantsers” (those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and do minimal to no outlining before putting pen to paper) and you have the “plotters” (those who do extensive outlines before delving into their projects). While most traditionally published authors tend to be plotters, there’s something to be said for each style and ultimately it depends upon the writer’s personal style.

If you’re a pantser, you’ll effectively skip this part (though you may like the Draft Zero Method!). However, if you’re a plotter, there are a number of outlining methods you can use, or you can use a combination of methods to flesh out your major and minor plot points before beginning your writing.

The Traditional Outline

For structured writers, the traditional approach is often the go-to method for outlining. Using this method, you divide your novel into individual chapters and summarize the story arc in each one in a few sentences. You will get the general feel for each chapter and can easily see the trajectory of your plotlines using this method. Some writers will do this outlining on index cards, to make it easier to shuffle things around as they see fit.

The Three-Act Outline

Another favorite of the structure-loving writer is the three-act method. Instead of dividing the novel into chapters, this approach divides the novel into acts; Act I generally introduces the primary conflict, Act II introduces the turning point and climax, and Act III resolves the conflict.

The Hero’s Journey Outline

Like the Three-Act method, the Hero’s Journey breaks the novel into three parts. This is a popular method for fantasy and science fiction writers (Star Wars is a prime example), and typically has the protagonist refuse a call to action in Act I, be thrust into a series of trials in Act II, and “win” in Act III.

The Freytag Outline

This method breaks the story into not three parts but five; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Because it’s not as structured as most other methods, this is for the writer who has a little pantser in them.

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The Synopsis Outline

Very unlike the previous methods which break novels up into bite-sized pieces, the Synopsis Outline is a running summary of the novel in its entirety without scene or chapter breaks. This is an incredibly useful method for writers who want to submit their work to agents and publishers, if for nothing more than to have a novel synopsis for their submission packages.

The Snowflake Outline

The Snowflake Outline focuses on “building up.” It begins with a one-sentence summary of your story, from which you expand to summaries of your characters, settings, scenes, storylines, goals, conflicts and resolutions.

The Draft Zero Outline

Pantsers who want to try outlining tend to love the Draft Zero method, because it focuses on speed rather than limiting oneself to formulas. This is really just a super-fast write-through of your story, getting out the general story as quickly as possible on the page to refine through later drafts, and often leaves out details (single letter placeholders for character names, or general ideas such as “they somehow escape”).

Regardless of what method you use, or if you use a method at all, thinking of the overall structure of your story early on leads to better, more refined work later on and is worth the time to reflect on.

Takeaway:

How you outline is very much a personal choice, but it does help craft a more intricate story and there’s more than one way to do it!

What’s your outlining style? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. — J.K. Rowling

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