As I talked about in my previous post about reflecting on this year’s NaNoWriMo journey, I realized that I didn’t sit down on November 1st with enough information about my story. This led to a number of really difficult days where the words would come because I was not only writing, I was brainstorming as well, and it is hard to write characters and scenes that I haven’t thought about a little beforehand.
The major area of weakness that I found was in my characters. Part of this was because I revamped my characters half way through November after getting some valuable feedback (see the post about Killing Your Darlings here), but part of it was because I went in thinking I knew these characters when I really didn’t.
To fix that, I created a Character Planning Guide that helped me dig deeper into who my characters were, but also helped me fix some problems of similarity that I had unintentionally written into my cast of characters.
The whole reason that I created this guide was so that I thought more deeply about my characters prior to writing them. However, I quickly realized that I could use this guide for characters that I had already written about as well. In fact, I could use this guide in multiple places of the writing process depending on the needs of my story and characters.
How it works
Each page is based on a different category like name, age, physical appearance, etc. On each slide, there are questions that you can consider for creating your characters. As you can see, the Name page to the left has questions that you may not ever think about when naming your characters, but can cause issues for readers. For example, one question asks you to consider whether all of the character names are the same length. If they are (and you don’t have a specific, good reason for that), then it make all of the character names too similar for readers and can prevent them from easily identifying and separating characters as they read.
Also on each page, I added some examples. So, the Name examples include ones from The Fellowship of the Ring. As you can see, there are a number of lengths, variations, and sounds going on in those names. Some of them are tied to their race or forefathers, and others we don’t learn much about. However, it makes it easier to see that these are different characters, especially with such a large cast. However, two of the antagonists (Sauron and Saruman) always confused me when I would read. The world is dense, the characters are many, and to have two similar names both be on the “evil” side, it was hard to keep straight the first time I read the trilogy.
Putting it all together
As you can see to the right, the overall goal of this is to use the questions and categories to not only create characters, but to compare them as well. If you have too many characters that have “J” names, or everybody has perfect, chiseled bodies with no scars or other defining characteristics, it can be hard for your characters to come off as genuine and diverse for readers.
To the right, I created just a paired-down comparison from Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End to show how a few of the categories for the main characters are similar, like age and physical appearance (and for good reason since they are both going through similar things and connect with each other throughout the story), but they are also different in personality and even speech patterns. This makes it really easy to differentiate the two boys as well as identify which POV you are reading from because they are unique.