NaNo Prep for Non-Planners, Part Two: Characters

It’s week three of NaNo Prep month, and hopefully by now you have an idea you’re eager to run with. In part one, I wrote about generating ideas, and how to use various brainstorming exercises to help build your story. Were any of the exercises helpful to you? Did you come up with a premise for your novel?

This week, the focus is on characters. Characters are the heart of any novel. Without them to move the plot along there simply is no story. And in any story, there are typically at least two characters – the protagonist and the antagonist.

The protagonist is at the center of the story. They make the key decisions that propels the story forward. And they experience the consequences of those decisions. The antagonist then represents the opposing force against which the protagonist must contend.

There are many ways in a story to write the protagonist/antagonist relationship. There may be more than one protagonist, or multiple antagonists. The antagonist might not even be actual character, but a force of nature or corporate machine. Regardless of how your story will go, your characters are an integral part.

Interview your character
Since story is plot, and characters drive the plot, it’s important to spend some time getting to know the characters that will populate your story. The best way to get to know a character is to complete some sort of profile or interview with your characters. There are as many ways to do this as there are writers. If you don’t already have a character profile template, here are a few I found that range from a simple worksheet to a very elaborate profile.

Character Profile Worksheets
Questionnaires for Writing Character Profiles
Character Chart for Fiction Writers
Fiction Writer’s Character Chart 

Depending on your chosen genre, you may need to modify the profile template for age or even for non-human races such as elves, orcs or dragons. If you write fantasy, you might add questions about magical abilities or other related ideas.

How many characters does one novel need?
The answer to this question, of course, is going to depend on the story. Certainly, most novels need to contain at least two characters – the protagonist and the antagonist. Spend the most time on these two characters (or groups of characters, depending on the story), as they will drive the action. Don’t neglect the villain as this character is just as important to the story as the hero.

Your supporting cast could range from a few, to entire cities and worlds full of people. Again, the type and scope of your novel will determine this. More than likely you will need at least some characters outside the main two. How much time you spend on them before writing will depend on their importance to the story. Some you may want to do full profiles on, where others need little more than a name or title, and a cursory description.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, it can be a good idea to do minimal profiles on as many of your side characters as you can. At the very least, make a list of characters that may show up in your novel. Spend a little time now giving names to those surrounding your main characters and keep that list handy! If you need a great place to find names, here’s a great website: behindthename.com.

Your NaNo prep assignment for week three:
Use one of the character profile sheets linked above, or one of your own devising. Sit down with your characters one at a time, spending the most time on your protagonist and antagonist. Dig out as much detail on these characters as you can. What you learn here will help determine where your story will go.

Three questions to focus on this week:

  1. Who is your hero?
  2. Who is your villain?
  3. What (if any) supporting characters are necessary?

NaNo Prep month is already half over. We’ve established a workable idea, and we now have characters we love. Spend some time getting to know them better as you prepare to introduce them to the world. Next week we’ll start putting all the pieces together into a plot outline.

Happy writing!

2 thoughts on “NaNo Prep for Non-Planners, Part Two: Characters

  1. Pingback: NaNo Prep For Non-Planners, Part One: Ideas – TAwrites

  2. Pingback: NaNo Prep for Non-Planners, Part Three: Plot & Structure – TAwrites

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