Friday, October 21, 2005


"You can construct the character of a man and his age not only from what he does and says, but from what he fails to say and do." -- Norman Douglas

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, many of you will be writing stories with new characters. Some writers prefer to discover their characters as they write, but I always want to know as much as I can ahead of time. In addition to answering my three questions, I fill out profile sheets and sketch or paint characters. I don't do the crafty collage board thing, but I've heard that can help, too.

It's always good to know more about your character than the reader does, so in addition to the general info, you might want to take a peak inside your character's psyche and see what's going on in there by trying these things:

1. Roleplay your character and make him or her take all those fun online quizzes, and see what color/book/planet/flower/movie/whatever he or she turns out to be.

2. Go to the mall and window-shop clothes for your characters, or go to a car dealer and test drive a car your character would own.

3. Put together and burn a collection of music that your character would listen to, and play it in the car on the way to work or on the Walkman while you're cleaning house.

4. Unless you have bug-loving aliens in your novel, cook a meal that your character would enjoy and eat it.

5. Start a journal and write it as your character.

For moderately to severely dysfunctional characters, unless you're already a shrink, you're probably going to have to do some extra research. A couple of friendly spots to check out:

1. Abnormal Psychology's Online Case Book provides some case histories for such conditions such as OCD, histrionic Personality Disorder, and Anorexia, as well as brief analysis trouble-shooting and associated web links.

2. has some interesting content, including a good section on personality development and some pithy Online Self-Help Quizzes (another place to make your character take the tests.)

More help: Fiction Writer's character profile sheet is pretty thorough but general enough to work for most characters.

To avoid creating the Classic Dimit Antagonist, check out Peter Anspach's The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord.


  1. I signed up for Nano this year, hoping to churn out half my next book in a single month. I work best with a deadline, however artificial it might be, and Nano looks to fit the bill.

  2. Anonymous8:05 AM

    I consistently do the window shop for clothes. Or I flip through fashion magazines and say, "Hmm, she'd totally wear her hair like that."

    More so for my NaNo project than anything else, because it's a young adult novel featuring a very trendy teenage girl.

  3. For those of us who used to play tabletop RPG's in another life (15 years ago! Ack!), the idea of a character sheet is not foreign. The one you've posted looks very nice.

    I use a database on my Palm computer to track mostly those kinds of things... I haven't gotten in the habit of doing it on a regular basis, but then again, I haven't become a good writer either. Maybe there's a connection.

  4. Anonymous8:56 AM

    The Evil Overlord List is printed out and tacked up above my computer - just to make sure that my antagonists don't fall into bad pit falls. It means it takes me longer to get my antagonists' profiles finished, but I think it gives me much better "villains."

    I make sure I have a complete history of each major character (which also usually incorporates the minor characters), and I'm always disappointed when almost none of it makes it into the story. It does make sure the characters are real, though.

  5. I like to type my characters according to Myers-Briggs type indicator. It's a great psychologicla and personality response approach to knowing what my characters might do in a given situtation. Here are a couple of links:
    (a more comprehensive test)
    (good if you haven't fully formed your character yet)

  6. What great resources and ideas, PBW. Thanks. I need to freewrite some as the hero for the current WIP. It will help unlock him more for me.

  7. I think I want to try the car thing...wonder if I can get into a jaguar. Even if it's just for a few minutes...

  8. Great ideas, all. I particularly like the online quiz idea, not so much for the "You are a Green Unicorn of Happy Fun!" icon as for the mental exercise of answering the questions.

  9. Fun stuff. When I'm out browsing the mall, I'm always on the lookout for clothes, household items, books, etc. that my characters would wear/have. It's more a test for me of how well I know a character than a tool to create him/her, though. If I never say, "So-and-so would have that", then I know I need to do more work on that character. :)


  10. That's so wrong. Now I see my 4th century AD charioteer Ciaran driving a Ferrari.

  11. Thanks for the refresher on your three questions. I have them written down, but hadn't answered them for the latest character. Some pretty interesting info came out of it. I want to sign up for the BIAM, but not unless I can get more of the story down first.

  12. Great post.

    Who are you? What do you want? What's the worst thing that I can do to you?

    The neat thing is, I managed to do this for my current NiP's major characters without ever giving it much thought. In retrospect, my unfinished 100K project failed because I didn't have these questions clearly in mind.



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