Before the Draft: Character Development

I know I promised I would start writing today and you could all hold me accountable. The thing is, my mom is having her hip replaced today, so I’m hanging out at the hospital. Prayers are welcome. But, the good news is, I’ve finished my “Before the Draft” steps and I already started drafting. Ok, so it was only a couple hundred words, but I put the first words on the page. Yay!

So, today’s post is about character development, and I have one other post planned for later this week to round out the series.

I first heard the tip to draft character profiles when I heard Mary Higgins Clark speak several years ago. She basically asked how you could write a story about someone you didn’t know, and that made a lot of sense to me. I’ve used a variety of formats for character profiles and currently use the Scrivener template, but I always hit the same major points before I start drafting. Here’s what I like to know about my characters in advance.

Name

Names are very important to me, particularly for my main character. This may sound odd, but I look at it from the MC’s parents’ point of view. Who are they and why would they choose that particular name for their child? Is it a family name? Is the name connected to an interest of theirs? Did they choose it because of its meaning? After all, the parents have a major impact on who this character turns out to be. Maybe I’m over-analyzing it, but I know it was a big deal to me how we named our children. Anyway, I spend quite a bit of time finding just the right name for the MC. I can’t figure out anything else about the MC until I know his/her name. And usually I end up slipping the reason for it into the story somewhere :). I spend so much time naming my main character I often choose the others more quickly, but they always have a reason, too.

Appearance

I know some people like to find photos to represent their characters. I like to keep mine more vague. I hit the highlights–hair, eye and skin color, build, height. I try to come up with something that distinguishes the character, whether that’s a birthmark, a signature wardrobe choice, or a mannerism. Laying out these details in advance keeps me from changing a character’s eye color in the middle of the book. This way I can always refer back to my character profile to confirm that information.

Personality

Quiet, bubbly, outgoing, nervous, studious–I need to know before I start writing what adjectives to apply to my characters and how those traits will play out in the way they speak and act.

Background/History

This section hits on the heart of who the character is. How was she raised? What does he believe? What’s happened in the past that affects the present and what she expects for her future? What does he like to do in his free time? It’s also where I answer a key question that contributes to the story’s conflict: What does she want most and what will prevent her from getting it?

Conflict

I like the way the Scrivener template breaks out internal and external conflicts for each character. Maybe the reader will only see one or the other for a particular character, but as  the writer I want to know what the character is struggling with. The character’s actions will come to me more easily if I’ve already figured that part out.

Story notes

I also like to jot down general thoughts about how a character will react to plot points I’ve already been thinking through. It goes something like: “When x happens, she’ll … ” In that way, the character profile becomes somewhat of a catch-all for me.

How much do you like to know about your characters in advance? And how deep into the cast do you go? I do a profile for anyone who plays a major part, even if the reader’s only going to see the character through the MC. For THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT, I laid out all the family dynamics for the MC’s best friend, and I didn’t end up using any of it. But maybe I’ll get a chance to write a sequel and show him more :).

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Research
Before the Draft: Procrastination
Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener
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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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9 Responses to Before the Draft: Character Development

  1. Good for you, Michelle, to BEGIN! I’ve been planning on BEGINNING book 2 in my trilogy all summer and other deadlines and travel and family health issues keep getting in the way. Although I do have the story all planned out and a few bits and pieces. I just want to start moving forward with PAGES. 🙂

    Wishing you and your mother well today at the hospital, too. Hip surgery is no fun at all. My son needs open heart surgery soon so lots of issues going on there the past few months. 😦 Blessings and prayers to your family!

    • Thank you, Kimberley. My mom’s surgery went very well yesterday. I can’t believe how fast they had her standing up. Today they’ll get her walking! Modern medicine is amazing. I’ll continue to pray for your son. If you think of it, let me know when it’s happening so I can focus on it that day.

  2. Pingback: Before the Draft: Procrastination | Michelle I. Mason

  3. Pingback: Before the Draft: Research | Michelle I. Mason

  4. Akoss says:

    Oh, now your recent tweets make more sense. I hope your mother continues to recover fast and strong.
    I admire writers who use your technique. So far, the only way I got to know my characters was through a lot of writing and re-writing. I tend to start my books from a key scene out of the blue and then everything else grows from there. However I’m curious to find out how this structured technique might work for me in the future.

    • The beauty of being a writer is that there’s no one way to do it. I’ve found this is the most effective way for me, but it took a couple of books to figure out.

      That’s funny about my tweets. I guess I didn’t ever say why I was at the hospital. My mom’s doing great!

  5. Pingback: Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener | Michelle I. Mason

  6. Pingback: Getting Inside Secondary Charaters’ Heads | Michelle I. Mason

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