As fantasy author DK Drake, my mission is to bring you entertaining, engaging, wholesome adventures too packed with action to leave room for eye-rolling sappiness or mind-numbing fluff.
As a creative writing coach, my mission is to help authors find their voice, craft captivating stories, and finish book after book.

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Book Writing Tips, Published Before College Podcast

February 22, 2023

Develop Characters That Are Interesting and Realistic

Developing characters is my favorite part of the storytelling process, and I tend to go a bit overboard with creating the backstory for my people. I like knowing where they came from, how they think, and what kinds of experiences they have had prior to jumping into the pages of my stories.

But because I’m working on streamlining and simplifying my process in order to write better stories with more interesting people faster, I’m forcing myself to work within the boundaries of this novella writing process I’m sharing with you.

Before we get into the fun and random questions you can answer for your people, we do need to be practical to have something to work with.

For starters, you need to determine some basic facts about your hero, your villain, and any other major players in your story like your hero’s best friend and your villain’s top minion.

We’ll begin with your hero. Every great hero needs one big problem or flaw, one big goal (something the hero wants and is pursuing), and one big need (an important lesson he needs to learn). Before we can figure any of that out, though, we need to get to know your hero. We do that with a three step process that should take you 30 minutes. Work with that timer to help you make quick decisions.

Step one is boring but important birth certificate stuff.

  1. Full name. I’m talking first, middle and last name. Give your person a full identity.
  2. Birthdate. Month, day, and if you’re super detail-oriented like me, include the year.
  3. Gender. Boy or girl. Pick one.
  4. Parent’s names. Your person didn’t drop out of the sky. He or she has a mom and dad. Make up their names even if the parents never show up in your story. It makes a difference in how you see your character.
  5. Place of birth. Where your character was born matters and impacts identity. For instance, I was born in Arizona but grew up in North Carolina. I was two when we moved here and so don’t remember a thing about Arizona. But Arizona is a part of who I am. It matters to your character to.

Congratulations. You’ve just birthed your hero into existence. We’re ready for step two.

I want you to imagine what your hero looks like at the beginning of your story. Describe your character’s now appearance. Write down the following information:

  1. Age
  2. Color of hair, eyes, and skin.
  3. Height and weight

Now imagine your character just walked in to your room. What is he or she wearing? Super stylish fancy clothes? Casual chill clothes? Mismatched patterns? Bright colors? Dark colors? What about the hair style? Prim and proper? Loose and frizzy? Write down what you see.

Excellent. Now it’s time to move on to step three and have your first chat with your person. This is where your hero comes to life.

Invite your character to have a seat beside you, get your notebook ready, and ask your hero these five random questions.

Here’s the most important part of this whole process: let your character answer. Your character’s answers will reveal some interesting facts about your person. Don’t edit anything out. Write what you hear your person say. Also, pay attention to how your character sounds. Does he have an accent? Does she speak with a lisp? Does he talk fast or take his time getting the words out? Does she come across as friendly or kinda snobby? Let your imagination do its job with this character development process.

All right. Is your character seated and ready for your first question?

Remember, your character needs to answer these questions. NOT you. You are not your character. Your character has his or her own personality and ideas. Be open to hearing what your character has to say. I’m going read through all the questions with a slight pause between each one. You can take the time to write them now, or copy them from the blog. I’ll have the link in the show notes.

Okay. Here we go.

  1. If you were stuck in the wild and the only thing you had to eat was a leech, would you swallow it whole or chew it?
  2. Would you rather have the ability to fly or be invisible?
  3. What was the last gift you gave someone?
  4. What are the three biggest things you have accomplished in your life so far?
  5. If a dragon landed on your doorstep, what would you do?

Once your hero has answered these questions, start the process over with your villain. Your story needs a good bad guy, so take the time to give your bad guy or gal a name, a description, and a personality.

Then do the same thing with your hero’s best friend and your villain’s sidekick. Take 30 minutes on each one. Then put the profiles aside for a day or two.

When you come back, review the answers. Take 30 minutes to an hour to brainstorm what you learned about who your character is based on the answers to those random questions. For instance, if he listed one of his accomplishments as being the valedictorian of his high school class, that shows he’s intelligent, values knowledge and knows what it takes to win.

There is so much more we can do to develop our characters, but if you follow these steps, you’ll have a solid start.

Once again, give your main characters a full name, birthdate, parents, place of birth and gender. Then describe their age and appearance at the start of the story. Finally, interview them. Ask them five random questions and let them answer.

Have fun with this. Enjoy getting to know your people, and I’d love to hear your character’s answers. Please share in the comments below.

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