When I’m browsing a writer’s group I belong to on FB, I often see new writers asking for tips on how to build their story from the ground up. They have ideas, but they don’t know where or how to start writing those ideas into book form.
Seriously, I would never dream of calling myself an expert, and I’m pretty sure I spend just as much time fielding anxiety as I do getting actual work done. But, I’ve always been someone who enjoys helping others, and I always seem to have answer to those questions, so I thought – why not start writing it down somewhere?
The first thing I’m going to talk about is creating character profiles. I am a huge believer in them. In fact, I can’t get into a story without knowing WHO I’m writing for. Because, I’m one of those writers who’d tell you that I don’t write my characters, they write themselves.
I’m positive that if you’re writing fiction, you already have an idea, the overall story in your head, and the main characters that will feature throughout. Get them down in a file titled something like Working-Title-Here Character Sheet. There are a billion character templates out there, but I prefer creating my own documents. It’s just easier for me. You do you!
The following are some of the things I do for my own books. Keep in mind, I may go a bit overboard, but I absolutely believe too much is better than too little.
- Tentative Character Name
- Place Of Birth
- Height/Weight/Eye and Hair Color (Look, you can go vague with hair and eyes, or go detailed. Depending on the character I do both.)
- Skin Tone, Ethnicity, etc …
- Voice Style (Are they foreign? If so, where are they from originally? If your character is from a place that has many different vocal inflections based on what part of a country they’re from – use that.)
- Where do they live now?
- Who are their parents? Siblings? (If they’re in the book, they’ll each get a character sheet, grouped with the MC.)
- Are they in school? What grade? If they’re college, what classes would they be enrolled in? If an adult, do they work? What kind of work do they do, etc..
- What are their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, etc ..
- Do they have any notable tics/habits?
- Do they have mental illness of any kind – if so, what type, and why?
- What is their backstory?
- Where are they at in life Right Now?
- What is your tentative story arc for this character?
Keep in mind, you can revise, add, and change your notes, as needed.
I do this for each and every character in my books, right down to the some of the more interesting passive characters. I may not go as in-depth on a tertiary character as I do a main or secondary character, but I still like having that background feel for them. In my mind, you can never know when you might want to reference something in passing, or when you might want to pursue an avenue you hadn’t had in mind at first.
I begin with these basic ideas and as I write, and the character takes life in my head, they inevitably begin to tell me their story. I don’t force a character into a mold I dreamed up. If they’re telling me to go through door B even though I planned on door A for month, I go through B.
I love writing character sheets. The reader may never know that the character once fell of their bike and that’s where the small cut on their knee came from. But, for me, it just helps to flesh out this character and allows me to get a better understanding of who they are and how their story might unfold. I revise and update throughout the entire writing process.
Don’t be shy with your characters. I remember in the beginning feeling almost embarrassed for having so much information on my characters. Each book I write is my baby. Wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about your baby? Of course, you would. So, don’t be shy. No one needs to ever see your character sheets but you.
The more you find out about your character, their likes and dislikes, their quirks, their heartbreaks, their achievements, etc., the better you’ll capture their voice. It will begin to come naturally to you and before you know it, they’re dictating, and you’re simply ghost writing.
This is just a little taste of what I do to prepare to begin writing a fiction novel. Stick around – there’s more to come.
Until then – Keep Writing!