How to Create Strong Characters: 3 Writing Tips

I’ve noticed that a lot of advice on how to create strong characters tends to start with a character questionnaire. (Here’s an example of a pretty good one if you want to give it a shot!) While these questionnaires have some great things to consider, they never helped me to create strong characters.

I always felt like it was a little too much too fast. I used to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to consider. So much so that I would try to power through these question without really digging in and getting to know my characters like I needed to. So instead, I created some questions of my own.

I developed this process pretty organically. I learned what I needed to get excited about my characters and truly bring them to life. Now it’s what I use as the basis for ALL of my major characters. I’ve never seen anything that looks like my initial approach online, which is why I’m sharing it with you!

Here are the three big areas I think about any time I want to create strong characters:

1) What happened to your character before your book starts?

When I first come up with an idea, I tend to have some loose details of what happened to my characters before my book starts.  Before I do anything else, I take the time to really develop these thoughts. Most importantly, I want to know what happened in my character’s past that defined them. What shaped them into the person they are at the start of the book?

For example, when I started planning the Raven Files, I knew it was going to be a book about a girl who was kidnapped by an enemy spy agency when she was eight. I also knew she would be eighteen when the book starts. So before I started writing I sat down and thought about what it would be like for my character to be taken from her parents so young, what her training was like, what her life was like at this enemy spy agency, and what some of her defining missions were.

All of this not only gave me a seriously strong sense of my character, but it also got me really excited to think about the story I was planning to tell.

2) Who is your character at the start of the book?

Now that you know what shaped your character’s past, it’s time to think about how those events truly impacted them and made them into the character that they are at the start of your story. Did events of the past traumatize them? Or do they find themselves anxious in certain situations because of something that happened to them? Are they less talkative than they used to be because of an event?

Go through your character’s history and ask yourself how affected your character would be by each of their key life events that happened prior to the start of the book. Then ask yourself how your character deals with or shows that impact. Every single event may not have a lasting effect, but finding the ones that do can be key in understanding who your character is at the start of your story. Once you know who they are, you can figure out how they develop.

3) Who do you want your character to be by the end of the book?

I also like to think of this question as, “what should my character to learn by the end?” but that might be too specific for you. The idea is that once you know what you want your character to learn or who you want them to be, you’ll be able to develop a reasonable path to help get them there.

For instance, in the first book of the Raven Files, I knew my main character came from a traumatic environment. She was raised to trust no one and fight for her life on a daily basis. The biggest thing I wanted her to learn by the end of the book was how to trust other people and let other people help her. With that in mind, I was able to plot out a variety of situations where she would first be forced to rely on other people and trust them. Then she could begin to make the choice to trust them. Knowing where I wanted my character to end up made plotting believable development so much easier than it would have been had I not known where I wanted my character to grow by the end.

I hope this helps you create strong characters!

I kickstart all of my characters by figuring out these three big questions. I’ve found it not only helps me develop my characters, but it also makes me really eager to write. I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!

Now it’s your turn: What approach do you take when you’re trying to create strong characters? What big questions to do you ask that you’ve found to be really helpful? Let me know in the comments below. You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Easy Ways to Create Conflict in a Novel: Writing Tips

Easy Ways to Create Conflict in a NovelKeeping a book consistently interesting is hard! One of the best ways to keep readers engaged is to create conflict in a novel. This probably not news to you, but that doesn’t mean fresh conflict is always easy to come by.

Here are four failsafe techniques that I always circle back to when to I need to create conflict in a novel:

1) Make your characters disagree

I know this seems obvious, but it’s so often overlooked! The easiest way to create conflict in a novel is to make your characters disagree. This applies to your main characters too, not just your protagonist and antagonist/villain. Traditionally when we create secondary characters, their purpose is to support our protagonist, but that doesn’t mean they have to agree with our protagonists all the time. Tension between the characters we’re rooting for not only makes the story more interesting but also more realistic.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a crime novel and your core characters are gearing up to go after your bad guy. It’s nice for your characters if they’re all on the same page about their plan of attack, but isn’t more interesting if they disagree? And doesn’t it add more uncertainty if readers have to wonder if the character(s) who disagreed will stick to the plan going forward?

You can use this technique at any point in your book that feels flat–not just the end. The level of disagreement can be up to you and based on your story’s needs.

2) Secrets and Lies

For the most part, everyone has a reason to keep a secret and everyone has a reason to lie. No matter how big or how small, secrets and lies are almost always guaranteed to shake up your plot. Once the secrets and lies are revealed, you’ll have characters who are likely to feel betrayed and/or your plot will be thrown into a new direction based on the new information.

This is a good technique to use if you need your characters to learn new information at a specific point in your plot. It also makes the liar/secret keeper a much more interesting character. And by doing so, creates conflict on both a plot and character level.

3) Add Family

There’s an endless pool of conflicts for families/family members. Even ones who get along well (and even more for ones who don’t).

Maybe your character is the member of their family that no one likes. Or maybe the family member no one likes has shown up asking for something. Or maybe the family member everyone likes, shows up on the run with a dark secret. Pull from your real experience or make something up. Script Mag has some tips on creating realistic family conflict.

Side note, I think this conflict is especially fun with a character who’s more private. A family member can reveal a lot about a character just by existing in a scene, which will make your private character uncomfortable and cause conflict from the start.

4) Give your characters exactly what they don’t want

This can be small or large, depending on the size of the conflict you’re looking to create. The principle is the same either way; if there’s something your character desperately wants to avoid, force them to confront it.

For something smaller, it can be a simple as they have to go to a party they don’t want to go to after a bad day. Maybe their bad mood will force a too honest conversation. For something larger, maybe some of the parties guests include people who tormented your character in high school.

This is another option that’s pretty open, but the cool thing about it is that by taking the time figure out what your characters don’t want, you also add a layer to them and get to know them better.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to create conflict in a novel!

I like these conflicts because I think they can be used in any story to shake things up, push your characters, and keep your story interesting. They’re the perfect go-tos when you find a scene or entire section of your book that needs a lift. Also, in order to make these methods work you have to really understand your characters, which means you get to know them better as you work. If you’re looking to take this to the next level, check out this post on how to write a tight scene.

Now it’s your turn: How do you like to create conflict in a novel? Do you have any go-to conflicts to share? Tell me all about it in the comments below! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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