If you’re new to “Summer’s Ultimate Novel,” click here to read the first post (listing ideas in a notebook), here to read the second (choosing the right idea), here to read the third (themes and one-line synopsis of your novel), here to read the fourth (one-paragraph synopsis), here to read the fifth (research and settings), or here to read the sixth (character questions).
Did your characters answer all your questions last week? I hope they cooperated with you. If not, try a different approach. Sometimes we have to search for the answers … inside ourselves.
Pat reminded me of some character-developing advice I forgot to mention last Saturday: “When writing about the character, put yourself in his/her shoes. Ask yourself—‘How would I react? How would I feel? What would I do?’ Not every character will act or feel the way you do; sometimes it’s the opposite. But asking these questions helps create a realistic character as opposed to a stereotype. If the main characters always make the right decisions or do the right things, the novel quickly becomes stale and boring.” Thank you, Pat!
He also mentioned how our characters partly reflect ourselves, and I wholeheartedly agree. I can see a slice of myself in Ivy, and a different slice of myself in Kari. That doesn’t mean my stories are autobiographies—far from it. But it does help me relate to my characters and make them more realistic.
Another thing I always do is fill out charts for my main characters. I use The Fiction Writer’s Character Chart. Yes, it’s insanely long, but I can’t seem to start a book without it. Follow the link to the website; from there you can either print it off or copy-and-paste it into a word document. If you’d rather handwrite than type, make sure to use a pencil (in case your answers change later on, like mine usually do).
Maybe you look at this character chart and think, “Favorite color? Will my story really fall apart if I don’t know my character’s favorite color??” No, of course not. Don’t start at the top of the chart where it requests favorites and habits and other tidbits that won’t really affect the plot one way or another. Instead, skip down to the sections on attitude, personality, and traits. You’ll notice a couple of the questions we had last week, like Character’s greatest fear? Go ahead and fill in those answers, then tackle the others. These aren’t easy questions … unless you pick random answers. The answers are only useful if relevant to your plot, so think about how the answers will affect your story.
I love brainstorming for the character chart; it gives me story ideas. For example, while charting Blaine for THE RIVER’S EDGE, I struggled to figure out his biggest regret. But when the answer finally came to me, then I knew his entire backstory. I immediately plotted the scene when he shares that regret with Kari.
The more answers you get, the easier it will be to answer the remaining questions—you’ll automatically know what makes sense for your character. Once you determine your character’s personality, you can guess his/her habits and favorite things. Kari’s favorite color is gray because it reminds her of the river she loves. Randomly picking gray would mean nothing without the reasoning.
If you can’t think of a logical answer to a question, skip it and move on. Maybe that answer is irrelevant, or maybe the answer will come to you during the first draft. Speaking of the first draft, it will be so much easier to write it if you know your characters! You can predict what they will do or say in any situation. The words will flow, and the story will be engaging instead of flat.
This week, complete charts for at least the hero and heroine; if you have time, fill out charts for the villain and secondary characters as well. Next week we’ll discuss the outline for your entire novel. Good luck with the charts, and let me know if you have questions!
P.S. I’m out of town this weekend, so I copied part of this post from the “Character Chart” post I wrote back in April. I apologize if you’re reading it for the second time and thought you were going crazy!
P.S.S. I’m curious about how many people are participating in “Summer’s Ultimate Novel.” So here’s the deal—leave a comment to sign up for SUN. This isn’t just for curiosity’s sake; it’s mainly for your sake. When you admit a goal to someone else, you’re more likely to achieve that goal (not that I have stats to back that up, but let’s pretend I do). When you tell someone you’re a writer, you’ll act more like a writer. And if you need more motivation, I’m throwing a contest!
SUN contest rules: Sign up for SUN—the deadline is midnight on June 30th. Then comment every Saturday in July to report your weekly word counts, and comment on August 1st with your final word count. It doesn’t matter if you fall short of your word count goals; it only matters that you try. Those people who sign up and comment consistently will be entered into a drawing. I don’t know yet what the prizes will be … books or Amazon gift cards or something. I don’t know yet how many prizes I’ll give away—it depends on how many people enter. Somebody will win something. How can you resist that, right? LOL.