To avoid the pitfall of creating characters who are one dimensional and all look and sound alike in your novel, you need to give a lot of thought to character development. You want to develop characters your readers will remember long after they finish your novel.
Many authors spend days and even weeks working on their characters before they begin to write. And it generally starts with creating a character development worksheet.
But character development shouldn’t end with the worksheet. In fact, that should be the beginning. Another aid you can use to really get into a character’s head is a character questionnaire or interview. And for your lead character or characters, you can even become the character for a day, a week, or a month.
We will get into all of these aids and how to use them later in this article. Here is more detail on exactly what we will cover here:
- What Is Character Development?
- What Is A Character Development Worksheet?
- What Is A Character Questionnaire Or Interview?
- The Character Profile And Essential Things To Consider As You Create Yours Including–
- Character arc
- Internal character development
- External character development
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Avoiding stereotypes
- Putting It All Together By Becoming Your Character
- Example Character Development Worksheet For Fiction
- Example Character Questionnaire Or Interview For Fiction
What is Character Development?
Character development is the process of creating believable, meaningful characters who have personalities with emotional depth. Even the most ordinary character in a novel can and should be meaningful.
But how do you create characters who have depth and meaning?
To create such characters you have to get way, deep inside them. You have to really get to know them inside and out. That means thinking about more than what color hair and eyes he or she has. You also need to consider the hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, family backgrounds, and so much more.
Now you don’t need to figure out every last detail before you begin to write a single word of your novel. Your character will and should continue to evolve from the planning phase up to the moment you write the last word.
But by planning ahead as much as you can before you start to write, you can avoid needless frustration and reduce the amount of rewriting. And for most writers, the planning process generally begins with character development worksheets.
What Is A Character Development Worksheet?
This is a form that is used to begin developing profiles of your characters. It’s where the writer documents everything that the writer wishes to know and remember about the character. It is useful as an aid to help you get to know the character and it also helps you remember details about the character as you get deep into the novel, since it is something you can easily refer back to when needed.
You can find sample worksheets online or create them yourself. Most of them include items such as the character’s physical traits, family history, background, personal relationships, and likes and dislikes. They also include information about the character’s goals, personality, dreams, and beliefs.
The character development worksheet need not be the same for every character. For your main character, the worksheet will likely be much more detailed and extensive than it will be for minor characters. And the most minor characters may not need worksheets at all.
Although character development worksheets can be extremely useful for writers if used properly, there are potential pitfalls. If the worksheets are too lengthy and detailed, they may actually hinder more than help the writer by trying to cover every possible detail before writing and thereby stifling creativity.
Or the writer may end up spending so much time and effort on the worksheets that she never sits down to actually write the novel. In this case, the worksheets become the goal. Writers need some space to be able to develop, change, and flesh out characters as they write.
Toward the end of this article, you’ll find an example of a character development worksheet as well as suggestions for using them in a way that will encourage rather than hinder creativity.
What Is A Character Questionnaire or Quiz?
By character questionnaire, I don’t mean a list of questions that you ask yourself about the character. That’s usually just another format of the character development worksheet in question form. What I’m referring to is a questionnaire with questions that you ask your character. In other words, you, the writer, pretend to interview your character.
Really. Give it a try. You’ll often be surprised at how your character responds to questions and how this frees your imagination to go in all sorts of interesting directions. It really helps the writer get inside the head of the character in a way that nothing else can and often leads down unexpected but very rewarding paths.
I believe the character questionnaire in the form of an interview works so well because it shifts the way you work with your character. You’ll find a short example of a questionnaire at the end of this article.
The Character Profile
Taken together, the character development worksheets and questionnaire or interview should help you produce very in-depth profiles of your characters.
Here are some important things to consider as you use the worksheets and questionnaire to develop your character profiles.
- Character Arc. This is the internal transformation that your character (usually just the main character) will undergo over the course of the novel. This is how she or he will change, for the better or worse.
When you start writing, you won’t have all the details but you should have an idea of how you want the main character to evolve so that the physical, emotional, and personality traits you assign to your character at this point will match the upcoming internal journey for the character.
- Internal Character Development. This is how your character changes internally. It is how the character views herself and/or the world around her and how this viewpoint changes over the course of the novel. You won’t know everything during the planning stage but you want to begin to consider this as you develop your character in the worksheet and questionnaire.
- External Character Development. This is how the character changes outwardly during the course of the novel due to age or circumstances. This may or may not happen, depending on the duration of the novel. A novel that takes place over the course of a month may involve few or no changes in a character’s external development.
- Character Background. This relates to everything that happened before the novel begins that is relevant to what is about to take place throughout the pages of the novel. That includes the family background, previous love life, previous employment, and anything else that is germane to the story.
- Character Strengths and Weaknesses. Just as every real-life person has both strengths and weaknesses, so should your characters.
- Avoiding Stereotypes. The dictionary defines a stereotype as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” Avoid using stereotypes by giving a lot of thought to your characters to give them depth and make them unique.
As you can see, everything about creating characters for your novel is intertwined. The physical features, personality traits, and backgrounds you assign to your characters should be given with some idea of the journey your character will go through during the course of the novel.
Putting It All Together By Becoming Your Character
One of the methods that I have used to help bring all of this together is to become my character as I go out and interact in the world. Character development worksheets have their place as do character questionnaires. But becoming your character really brings her or him to life as you attempt to see and feel how the character would act in the real world.
Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be as crazy as it may seem. For one, how far you want to carry this is up to you. Some will choose to act as their characters entirely in their heads. Others may actually go as far as to speak in the character’s voice. Here are some suggestions.
Whenever you leave the house, whether it’s to run errands or go shopping or whatever, pretend you are your character. Ask yourself, what would “Denise” do in this situation? And then do it.
“It” can be just in your head, using that vivid imagination you have as a writer. Or, if you’re more daring, actually act it out. Now don’t go and curse out a salesclerk behind the counter if that’s what your character would do. But you get the idea.
I did this with my novels, including my first one, Sisters and Lovers. The novel had three lead characters and I spent several weeks pretending to be each one, one by one, whenever I went out. I did this both during the planning stages and occasionally while actually writing. I often run into readers who remember those characters by name, decades later.
Now that makes it worth all the hard work.
Example Character Questionnaire or Interview For Fiction
Following is a short example of a character interview. In the interview, you, as the author, would pretend to interview your lead character. You want to dive into your character’s deepest feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative. You can also use it for other important characters and only use the questions you think you need for the character.
Remember to respond as the character. Try to really get into the character’s head.
1. What do you like about yourself?
2. What do you dislike about yourself?
3. What causes you to lose your temper?
4. What do you do when you lose your temper?
5. What or who are you most proud of?
6 Do you believe in God?
Confused about dialogue tags? Yes, there is a right (and wrong) way to do it. Check out How to Use Dialogue Tags in Your Novel, here on Writers Imagine.