I don’t actually remember having an imaginary friend as a child, but I feel like I have several as an adult. They’re called the main characters for my NaNoWriMo project, Samantha Darkened.
Nothing can jar a reader or a movie-goer faster than an inconsistency. Wait, isn’t he left-handed? Hang on, she just said three scenes ago that her father died when she was 9, but now she said she was 7?
I decided that the only way to avoid this problem was to prep. Do my homework. Think ahead.
So, I started with the main event, the driving force of the novel: my characters. I mean, what would Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone be without…Harry Potter? Would we care about the story as much without knowing his past, his life, and the stakes that stand in his battle with Voldemort? No, without all that it would be an account of the habits and history of a magical community in England.
To prep my characters, I started a profile on each one.
I found so many free books on Kindle regarding questions to ask in order to flesh out a character. However, my absolute favorite questionnaire is from Epiguide.com. I filled out the full questionnaire for my main characters and antagonist. I even found while going through questions like, “Favorite hobby?” or “Biggest regret?” created ideas for conversations between my characters. I don’t intend to use everything out of the 50 or so pages I scribbled onto, but I’d like to shoot for a trilogy so a small detail may become relevant at some point.
Then, I put my characters through personality tests.
Ok, it may sound excessive but hear me out. Ever take a personality test and think, “I never thought that about myself, but it’s true!”? I made up these characters out of thin air two weeks and I’ll take whatever help I can get. Aside from the standard Myers Briggs test, I found one that offers several personality aspects. The test even told me the romantic styles of my characters which will help when I’m finalizing scenes between my main character and her love interest. But aside from a romantic relationship, I can also see the benefit of using the analysis in family and platonic relationships as well. After all, I’m not writing a love story but a story about family ties and finding confidence.
The other personality test I used was the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.
Lastly, I tried to imagine how my characters would look.
Now that I have a general sense of who my characters are, I wanted to make them real in my mind with physical descriptions. I think that our appearance ties into our personalities and self-esteem, self-esteem being a huge issue with my main character.
If you’re lucky enough to be a writer/artist combo, you could draw your characters by hand or using computer software. However, I’m only adept at drawing stick figures and I think my characters would never forgive me.
So, I use Pinterest. I started by typing in general characteristics and branching out from there. My main character is a legal assistant – gee, where did I get that idea – and even though I work at a firm, it’s the only firm I’ve ever worked for. I have no idea what other offices look like or what their dress codes might be.
I looked at clothes, models, actors or actresses that have features that I want in my characters. However, I was careful not to necessarily cast a real person for each role. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea, but it’s distracting for me to write an original character when I’m imagining Brad Pitt. Then I’m just writing about Brad Pitt. Maybe next NaNoWriMo.
How do you prepare your characters? Do you ask specific questions, take personality tests, or wing it? Comment below!
Nicole C. Thomas
Nicole is a writer working on her first novel Samantha Darkened, created during NaNoWriMo 2016. She writes weekly posts regarding books, writing, and mental illness. She has an interesting sense of humor which includes a love of alliteration and puns.