How to Craft Key Character Relationships: Writing Tips

Crafting Key Character RelationshipsWhen it comes to creating killer characters, one crucial area to develop is their key relationships. The character relationships they’ve had will shape them and play a key role in who they are coming into your story. This will dictate how they behave, what they believe, and how they interact with your other characters.

The main purpose of this post is to help you develop a character before you start writing, but some of the relationships below may come into your characters’ lives after your story starts. If that’s the case, then consider how this newcomer will affect and change your character going forward.

Here are six key character relationships to consider and develop for your characters:

Parents

Everyone has parents. Even if they died or don’t play a role in your characters life, at some point they existed. The relationship, or lack of relationship, will likely define your character’s core beliefs and personality. Some questions to consider:

Are/were they close with their parents?

Is/was there tension or rebellion at any point?

Did your character grow up with a lot of rules? Or with not enough rules?

Did your character have everything they needed from their parents? (love, food, shelter, clothes, etc.)

Does your character have the same core believes as their parents? What caused this?

What was the biggest thing they disagreed/fought about growing up?

How much influence do they have over your character?

What are some defining moments in their relationship?

How do they treat each other overall?

Siblings

There tends to be two types of sibling dynamics: best friends or combatants (and of course, somewhere in between). Siblings might share a bond over their family and shared experience or they might be super competitive and always trying to one-up each other. (Though I would argue a lot of this is dictated by their parents, so that’s something else to keep in mind.) Or maybe they’re total strangers at the start of your book. Here are some questions to consider when developing your character’s sibling relationships:

Do your siblings get along? Why or why not? (Or, do they get along mostly with the exception of a few areas?)

Are your siblings competitive?

Do your siblings fall into traditional birth roles? (ie, is your older sibling more of a protector/caretaker? Or are they more untraditional?)

Do they challenge each other? (And if they do, is it in a good way or a bad way?)

How often do they talk? Or are they estranged?

How much influence does your sibling have over your character?

What are some defining moments in their relationship?

How do they treat each other overall?

Friends

Who your character chooses to spend their time with will tell us a lot about what they look for in others and what they value. Consider:

How did they meet?

How long have they been friends?

What do they have to offer each other?

Does one person take advantage of the other? (If yes, what’s kept them together?)

How do they support each other?

How much influence does your friend have over your character?

What are some defining moments in their relationship?

How do they treat each other overall?

Extended family

Extended families can be a lot of fun for your story because they’re close enough to know your character well, and they can either be really helpful or cause a lot of damage. Consider these questions for any extended family members you want to include:

How close and involved were they with your character in the past?

Did they get along?

Did they hurt or help your character?

In what ways do they conflict with other members of the family and with your character?

Are they always welcome at family events? Or are they considered the black sheep?

How much influence do they have over your character?

What are some defining moments in their relationship?

How do they treat each other overall?

Teachers/Mentors

Nearly everyone I know has at least one teacher or mentor who has made an impact on them. Odds are your character has someone like this too. If it’s your main character, they might not meet this person until your book starts. If it’s a secondary character, it’s possible we won’t meet them at all, but if it’s important for you to consider how a teacher or mentor might have shaped your character–whether we meet them or not.

How did they meet?

How does your mentor support and help your character?

What is your mentor’s teaching style? (More kind and compassionate? Or tough love?)

How does your mentor push and inspire your character?

What do they agree and disagree about?

What’s the most important lesson your mentor taught your character?

How much influence does your mentor have over your character?

What are some defining moments in their relationship?

How do they treat each other overall?

Significant others

Sometimes your character is either in a relationship or has a romantic history when your book starts. Or sometimes your character is unattached and building that relationship plays a key role in your book. Either way, any significant other is going to leave an impact on your character. Consider these questions for any romantic relationship your character may have had:

How did they meet?

How long have they been/were they together? (And if they’ve since broken up, when and why?)

Are/were they supportive of each other?

Do/did they challenge each other? (And if they do, is it in a good way or a bad way?)

What core believes do/did they share?

What do/did they fight about?

How much influence do/did this person have over your character?

What are/were some defining moments in their relationship?

How do/did they treat each other overall?

I hope this helps you craft your key character relationships!

There are likely dozens of more questions you could ask to develop your key character relationships, but these are some of the biggest.

Now it’s your turn: What key character relationships to you develop? Did I miss any? Or do you have anything to add to these categories? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Strong Villain: 7 Awesome Writing Tips

How to Create A Strong VillainCreating a good villain can be a key element in telling a compelling story. While it’s always important to have strong characters, bad guys also often play a major role in moving your book forward. So if your character is cardboard or cookie-cutter, it can be challenging to get your reader to buy into the story you’re trying to tell. Taking the time to create a good and interesting villain won’t just benefit your reader, it’ll also make your job as a writer much easier.

But what exactly makes for a high-quality villain? Here are seven tips to help you go beyond the mustache-twirling cardboard cut out.

1) First, make sure you’re creating a villain, not just an antagonist

An antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain. Here’s how I like to separate them. Villains typically have bad/evil intentions and tend to work against your main character. Antagonists are more like your character’s competition; your antagonist and protagonist may either both want the same thing, or have conflicting/differing views, but neither is really bad, evil, or actively trying to harm the other.

Here’s an example of each. In Harry Potter, Voldemort is a villain. He is out to do harm to others and the main character in the name of creating a dangerous and prejudice world. Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Aaron Burr is an antagonist. He isn’t necessarily looking to do harm to Alexander Hamilton or anyone else. However, he and Hamilton are often in competition with each other and have a different set of beliefs and standards, which leads to the conflict and tension that we see throughout the story. The difference being that Burr very rarely targets Hamilton or any character with an intent to do harm; the characters’ wants simply conflict with each other. While Voldemort is out to kill Harry and rid the world of muggle-borns from the start.

2) Create a human motivation

Now that you’re sure you’re creating a villain, take the time to figure out what made them the way they are. As much fun as it is to hate someone who is evil just because they’re evil, it’s not very believable. Something had to have happened to make your villain this way. Perhaps someone close to them was killed by a group or family member of your protagonist? Or perhaps your villain was taught to believe a lie? Whatever their motivations, make them human and relatable. It will help your readers buy into your story and help you discover what drives the character. This can also help you move your plot along.

3) Make sure they’re the hero of their own story

No villain should think they’re the bad guy. Even if they are aware they are doing bad things, they should believe they are doing it for a reason they believe in. Whether it be for their family, or for an all-around better future, your villain should conduct themselves as if they are the hero and your protagonist is the villain. Going back to Voldemort, he truly believes the world will be a better place if there aren’t any muggle-borns. He believes it’s the right thing to do and that Harry and the Order of the Phoenix are the bad guys for trying to stop him. Approaching your character this way will add depth to both your story and your character.

4) Zero in on what they want, why, and how the main character is a problem

As the writer of the story, you need to understand what your characters want and why. This is true for all of your characters, but particularly true for you villain. Your villain will often play an active role in moving your plot along. Because of that, you need to have a very solid understanding of what this character is after. Then you’ll be able to better understand their next steps and how those steps will impact your story. Once you have that figured out, make sure you have a thorough understanding of why your main character is a direct and active threat to what your villain wants. This is where a lot of the tension between the two will come into play.

5) Consider making them self-interested

Villians are often villains because of significant character flaws. Being self-interested is always a good flaw for a villain to have. It’s also a classic element to separate heroes from villains. Heroes typically act for the greater good even if it’s at their own expense. That’s what makes us applaud them. Whereas villains who act for themselves at the expense of others are very easy to hate.

6) Consider giving them a strong code or belief system

If your character is going to fight for something, it has to be a cause they believe in strongly. Your villain’s belief system may be skewed, but they need to believe in it strongly. That’s largely what’s going to keep them moving forward and fighting against your hero.

7) Consider their loyalties

Typically villains are either loyal to themselves, their cause, or no one. Each one is interesting for its own reasons. Whichever one you pick, it will help to shape and strengthen your villain in a believable way.

I hope this helps you create awesome villains!

Now it’s your turn: How do you create a strong villain? Who are some of your favorite villains and why? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create Characters with the MBTI: 5 Writing Tips

Characters and MBTIConfession time: I love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And as much as I enjoy learning about my own personality type, I appreciate how the MBTI can help create and develop characters. If you’ve never heard of the MBTI, it’s essentially a personality theory (and test) that says there are sixteen personality types. It looks at how people get their energy (introverted/extroverted), how they process the information (sensing/intuition), how they make decisions (thinking/feeling), and how they structure their world (judging/perceiving). For a complete explanation, hop over to the Myers & Briggs Foundation Website.

The official test is expensive, but there are plenty of comparable free tests floating around the internet. My favorite is 16personalities.com.

I’m an INFJ, and I’ve found that knowing my personality type has been pretty helpful in explaining my own behavior, thought process, and work tendencies. Shortly after I discovered the test for myself, I realize it could be just as helpful for character creation. So I started giving the MBTI test to my characters.

Here are just a handful of ways the MBTI can help with your characters!

1) It can add depth to your characters

There’s a lot that goes into creating a character. And because of that, it can be easy to overlook some of the finer points of a character’s personality. The MBTI provides you with a detailed description of how your character is likely to operate. This means it’s easier to ensure that you’re characters have a natural depth and you can make sure their personality traits don’t conflict with one another.

Also, once you know your characters personality type, you can look up what the unhealthy version of that type is. When you read an ‘official’  type description, most of the qualities that you read are going to be good. That’s because what you’re reading is each type at their best. However, there’s another side to every type when they’re not at their best. That’s the unhealthy version. So if your character is an ESTP and you want to know how they react under extreme stress or any other negative situation, make sure you do a google/Pinterest search for “unhealthy ESTP.” This can help make your character more well-rounded and believable.

2) It can help with consistency

If you ever find yourself questioning how your character would react to a situation, learning their Myers-Briggs type can be a great resource. You can refer back to the MBTI to see how your character’s type is likely to react, then adapt your scene according to your character. You may find that your character’s reaction will take the scene in a different direction than you were planning.

Additionally, if something about one of your scenes is feeling off, but you can’t put your finger on the problem, check in with your characters. It’s possible that someone’s reaction or behavior is inconsistent. If a character is out of sync with the personality you established for them, it could create a subtle inconsistency that’s hard to identify unless you know what you’re looking for. MBTI is a guide to how each specific personality type processes and experiences the world, so it can help you recognize these problems and tighten your scenes.

3) It can add conflict

The MBTI can give you insight into what annoys each personality. Which means if you do some research, you can see how two character types may clash. This can help create conflicts you might not have thought of because, in this case, you’re not just considering what your characters want, you’re also considering the fact that they also have different ways of attacking a situation to get what they want.

So if you have two characters who are trying to solve a problem and one of you’re characters is Judger while the other is a Perceiver, the judger is going to want to have a plan before going into a situation and the perceiver is more likely to want to figure things out as they go. This creates a natural source of tension between the two characters in addition to whatever problem they’re trying to solve.

4) It can help with secondary characters

Secondary characters don’t always get as much development attention as our primary characters. It’s unfortunate and unfair, but often true. Our time is limited and fully and completely creating a character that’s only going to be in a handful of scene/chapters isn’t always the best use of our time. Luckily, the MBTI can help fix that! 16 Personalities estimate that it takes less than twelve minutes to complete a test. I think we can all afford to spend twelve minutes on our supporting characters, no matter how minor they are. Once you’re finished, you’ll have a profile for a fairly well-rounded character that you can adapt based on your character’s history and other personality quirks.

5) But keep in mind, it’s just a guide

Everything about the MBTI occurs on a scale, so none of these personality profiles are meant to be taken as one hundred percent correct all the time. It’s possible for a person or character to show traits from other types depending on where they fall on the scale.

It’s also worth noting that personality is just one of many things that goes into shaping a character. Whatever happened in your character’s past will still play a key role in creating who your character is. These personality types help you figure out how your character might react or respond to a certain event or situation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate if it feels right for your character–just make sure you stay consistent with that deviation.

Bonus:

Once you discover your characters’ MBTI, do a Pinterest search of that type. You’ll get TONS of articles and infographics that can help you better understand all of your characters!

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to create characters with the MBTI!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used the MBTI to develop your characters? Do you think it will help? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tips: Managing Multiple Plot and Character Arcs

Managing Multiple Plot and Character ArcsI don’t know about you, but I LOVE when stories with a bunch of plot and character arcs. These stories have a lot going on, which keeps things exciting. It also feels more true to life. Sometimes we make things happen, sometimes things happen to us. Our lives are never linear, so your characters’ shouldn’t be either.

But balancing different storylines and character arcs can be overwhelming–both for you and your reader. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to consider. You need to keep your reader interested in each plot throughout the course of the book, but if you throw too much at them at once or at the wrong time, you risk losing or confusing your audience.

With that in mind, here are four tips that I’ve found helpful when managing multiple plots and character arcs.

Each plot and character arc should have the same basic structure as your book

Make sure each storyline has its own beginning, middle, and end, complete with its own set of raising actions. Personally, I find it helpful to plot each storyline out with this 3-act plot structure, just as I do the book itself. The subplots may not be as long, detailed or as in-depth as the main plot, but they should be complete and thought out. Approaching plot and character arcs as individually as you do a book will force you to give each one time, attention, and direction.

Think of each storyline independently

Going off the point above, I also find it really helpful to plan each storyline independent from the rest of the book. I’m an outliner, but when I plan a book, I don’t dive right into an outline. Instead, I plan each storyline out on its own, in its entirety. This includes using the plot structure in the point above, then freewriting the storyline from start to finish. This way I know what the important scenes are, the pacing, and everything else that needs to happen. Then I consider how it fits into the whole book.

It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t necessarily have to happen before you write your first draft. It can also happen after your first or second if that works better for you. Sometimes, you need to write to discover what your storylines are. However, I would suggest mapping your plotlines out in the early stages of the revision process at the latest. In my experience, the closer you get to finishing your book, the more challenging it will be to iron out plot problems.

Personal Process Tip: If you’re an outliner, try color coding your outline. Give each plotline an assigned color, then write out each scene in the appropriate color. This way, when you look at your outline, you’ll have a sense of how balanced your story is. Here’s an example from my Instagram.

Some plotlines should be smaller and shorter than others

If all of your storylines share the same length and importance, it’s going to be incredibly overwhelming to your reader. An easy way to control importance is to consider the stakes. For example, let’s look at Harry Potter. Each book has several storylines running through it. The biggest and most important is typically related to Voldemort–those stakes are life and death. There then tends to be a secondary storyline that is more immediately dangerous or harmful, but you can be pretty sure the main characters are going to make it out alive. Then there are a handful of school and personal storylines that are problematic for their own reasons but don’t threaten the physical safety of the main characters. Each of these storylines has their moments and serves a purpose, but typically only two or three of them play a constant and active role through an entire book.

They should all be connected in some way

None of your plotlines or character arcs should be completely independent of one another. They should all be serving either your overarching main plot or your main character’s overall development–ideally, both. If your storylines don’t connect, they will often confuse and distract your reader. Readers might spend time fixating on the point of the storyline instead of fully experiencing your book. This interferes with the story you’re trying to tell. The more connected your plotlines are, the tighter and more engaging your story will read.

However, this doesn’t mean the connections have to be obvious from the start. It’s okay if the link between two storylines is a brilliant plot twist towards the end of the book. In fact, that’s often a lot of fun. Just make sure there is a logical connection at some point before the end of your novel.

I hope this gives you a good idea how to manage multiple plot and character arcs!

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with managing multiple plot and character arcs? What’s been particularly problematic for you? What’s helped you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write an Unlikable Character: 3 Writing Tips

How to Write an unlikable characterFirst, what is an unlikable character? There are probably a few similar definitions out there, but I’ve always thought of them as characters I wouldn’t want to be friends with or invite over for dinner. Maybe they’re the “mean girl,” destructive, or self-destructive–whatever the case may be. The bottom line is, they’re not someone the average person would choose to spend time with if they were to meet in real life.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about unlikable characters in my time as a writer, and it’s something I’ve thought a great deal about. It’s come up in workshops, in rejection letters, and even in reviews of some quality books. Traditionally, it’s seen as a negative note; “This character is too unlikeable.”

I think there’s a flaw in this note. To me, it seems like it’s missing the true character issue. I don’t believe characters always have to be “likable” but I do think readers need to either relate to the character or understand why the character acts the way they do.  To me, understanding a character is essential. Relating to them is nice, but I don’t necessarily need that in order to enjoy the story.

So, if you’re writing an unlikeable character, or if you’ve ever gotten a “too unlikeable” note, here are three tips to consider:

1) Make sure you understand the motivations of your unlikable character

If you’re writing a character who’s out of control just because that’s how they are, then they’re not going to come across as very believable. In real life, everybody does stupid things and everybody makes bad decisions. But we always have our reasons. The same should be true for your character. If your character can’t help but be destructive, there has to be some underlying issue. It might be inherently psychological or it could be that something happened to make them that way. Either way, you as the writer have to understand why they behave the way they do.

Once you do understand your character’s motivations, make sure you share them with your reader fairly early. I’m not suggesting an info dump in the first chapter or anything like that, but if you want your reader to follow this character, it’s important to get them on the character’s side early. I would say by the halfway point, your reader should have some understanding of your character’s motives.

2) Give them redeeming qualities

People are very rarely one-sided, so it can be difficult for a reader to understand a character who is. If you have a character who is constantly making bad or selfish choices, give them another side to complement that. Maybe their life and relationships are a hot mess but they’re an amazing parent. Maybe they do some immoral actions for the sake of someone worthy. Or maybe they have a big secret they’re carrying around that would in some way explain their actions. There are a lot of directions you can take this. If you’re having a hard time, consider what or who your character cares about and why. The “why” might point you in the direction of something redeeming. These traits will make your character more interesting and help to draw your readers in–whether they like them or not.

3) Have at least one character who does understand your unlikeable character

The company you keep says a lot about you, so if you surround your character with good people, or at least one good person, who understand your character, it will create curiosity in your reader. They too will want to understand the character. You can also use these people to help explain your character’s issues. If there are other people in the character’s life who are rooting for them, it will be easier to transfer those emotions to the reader.

However, in order to pull this off believably, you need the elements above to be working as well. If your character has no redeeming qualities or believable motivations, then these understanding characters are going to look like doormats who unnecessarily put up with the unlikeable character. No one will come across as understandable or relatable, which won’t help your story or your character.

I hope this helps you write your unlikable character!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever been told you have an unlikable character? Have you ever read a book with an unlikeable character? If you have, did you understand the characters? Do you think this influenced out you thought of the characters? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Use Character and Plot Together in Your Novel

How Plot and Character Can Work Together in Your NovelI’m sure it’s not news to you that character development and plot are two of the most important elements of your novel. The best stories are able to find a good balance between the two, but that doesn’t always come easy. For me, the biggest game changer came when I was introduced to this character-centric, three-act tension plot structure, which I adapted slightly to meet my own needs. You can visit the link for a full break down of this plot structure. For the sake of this post, here’s a visual:

This structure originally comes from Peder Hill, so if you’re interested in more of an explanation, hop on over to his site. Here’s how I use this plot structure to help with my main character and plot development at the same time.

Give your main character 1 developmental goal

Because this is a character-driven story structure, I always start with my main character’s development. But of course, character development can be a challenging balancing act in itself. If your character changes too much, it might come off a little unbelievable. If they don’t change enough then they can be frustrating or uninteresting. One thing that’s helped me believably grow my characters is to narrow the scope of their development. I tend to focus on one specific lesson they need to learn or one skill they need to develop. Once I know what my character’s developmental goal is, I use the plot structure and the points of crisis to create situations that back my characters into corners and gradually teach them what they need to learn.

Link those situations to major plot points

Once I have my character-based points of crisis in place, I tie each point to my plot. This gives each point of crisis an overall plot push and some level of character development, which balances the book. To maintain that balance outside of the crisis points, I tend to focus more on the plot leading up to each point, and the character response/fall out after each crisis point. I’ve found that this contributes to increasing the tension leading up to the event then gives the book a good emotional release/calm after. I then hand the story back over to the plot to start building up to the next point. That’s not to say that there isn’t some overlap of both elements before and after. It’s just a matter of which element is the priority.

This Method in Action

The first time I used this method was with Crossing the Line. My main character, Jocelyn, was kidnapped by a North Korean spy agency as a kid and raised to become one of them. The book picks up ten years after her kidnapping when Jocelyn is looking to escape from, and get revenge on, her captors. But in order to make that happen, she’ll need to work with the agency she spent her life fighting against.

I knew Jocelyn was raised in a traumatic environment. I also knew because of that it would be very difficult for her to trust people. So, I decided early on that trust was the big developmental lesson I wanted her to learn by the end of the book. To that end, I developed a series of events where she would first have no choice but to trust people until she ultimately made the choice to trust them on her own. Each of these events became a point of crisis that I paced throughout the book using the structure above.

From a plot standpoint, I was lucky. Since it’s a spy book, it made sense for each crisis to happen when my characters were on a mission. Each of those missions then, in some way, contributed to the overall plot. (Which was Jocelyn’s attempt to escape and get revenge on her kidnappers.)

How did I get here?

If you’ve read the post on this plot structure, you know this was designed to prioritize character. Earlier drafts of Crossing the Line were, in fact, much more character focused. Each mission was in place to serve the character. Because of that, the missions were more independent of one another. One of the first notes my editor gave me (before she even bought the book) was that the missions should be connected and the plot more centric. She was absolutely right. Thanks to this plot structure, it was a fairly easy fix. Her note also helped me realize the full potential of this structure and how each point of crisis can serve both character and plot to create a balanced and solid story.

I hope this gives you some idea how to use character and plot together!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach character and plot? What works really well for you? What do you struggle with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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The Best Way to Describe Characters: 6 Writing Tips

The Best Way to Describe charactersWriting any kind of description can be a fine line. If you share too much, you risk taking your reader out of your story. If you don’t share enough, you leave your reader confused. So, what about when it comes time to describe characters? Characters are important, and there’s a lot a writer can potentially describe. Selecting the most important details can be overwhelming. There is no true “right” way to describe a character–it’s all a matter of preference–but in my opinion, a lot of writers waste words describing the wrong details.

So, there may not be a “right” way to describe a character, but if you ask me, there is a “best” way to describe characters, which is what I’m going to talk about today.

For any kind of description, there’s a rule I like to follow; if readers don’t need to know, don’t tell them.

Here’s how I apply that rule when I describe characters:

What a reader does need to know:

Anything that defines the character personally or emotionally. These are the elements that readers will connect with. They’ll see these qualities in themselves, their friends, their family members, or the people they’ve encountered over time. These are the details that make your characters real.

These are also the character details that drive your story. Their personality and temperament tell you how they will react in the different situations you put them in. Which is why you want to give them most of your attention when you describe characters.

Here’s are three areas I focus on when I describe characters:

1) Their personality. This is the most important element to describe. This tells us who your character is and why readers should care. Are they kind? Are they loud? How do they react under pressure? Do they reassure others, or are they the ones who need to be reassured? Do they thank the waiter at a restaurant or talk down to them? This list could go on. If you’re looking for tips on developing your character, check out this post with three tips to create strong characters.

2) Their quirks. Do they pick at their fingernails? Or are they incapable of looking someone in the eye? Anything that makes your character unique or adds to their behavior should be described.

3)Their energy. Does the room fall silent when your character enters? Or does everyone else get tense simply because this person is present? To they instill confidence? The energy your character carries and how the dynamic of a room changes when they enter says A LOT about who your character is, how others see them, and the role they play. Take time to describe it.

What a reader doesn’t need to know:

A character’s physical appearance. Now sure, there should be some description here, but it should be minimal. In my opinion, a lot of writers have a habit of giving too much here.

There are a few reasons behind this school of thought. First, from a practical standpoint, you only have so many words you can cram into a book. You can use those words describing what a character looks like or you can capture their personality and behaviors. As we talked about, the latter tells readers a lot more about the character than the former, which is why I rarely waste my word count on appearance.

Additionally, as a reader, I don’t really care all that much about what a character looks like. It’s not like watching a movie. I don’t have to physically recognize a character when they walk on to the page. As a reader, I recognize the energy, dynamic, and personality they bring to a scene.

Also, I think one of the joys of writing books is that we do not work alone. Half of the story belongs to the writer, but the other half belongs to the reader and their imagination. I tell the reader what I need them to know in order for me to tell my half of the story effectively. Everything else I leave up to them. I believe that the less detail you give, the more of an opportunity readers have to see themselves in the characters. This allows the reader to take some ownership of the story, which I think makes it more fun for everyone.

Here are some guidelines I use for a character’s physical description:

1) I shoot for one defining physical characteristic for each character. Maybe it’s their hair, eye color, or something about their size. This gives the reader something to latch onto while still giving them plenty of room to imagine the character as they’d like.

2) Any important marks, scars, or physical feature that is in some way adds to my character’s story or personality. For example, in Crossing the Line, I mention my main character has a circular burn scar near her left ear. This scar acts as a vehicle to her past and plays a small role in the story. And going off the point above, I gave my character thick curly hair as her distinguishing feature because I knew I wanted her to use her hair to hide that scar.

3) How they move. Do they strut? Shuffle? Wander aimlessly? Do they have some kind of compulsive behavior? These features tell us a lot about their self-image and state of mind. If you’re looking for help describing body language and gestures, Bryn Donovan has a Master List you can check out!

Every other physical detail is the reader’s call.

I hope this helps when you describe your characters!

Now it’s your turn: What description do you focus on for your characters? As a reader, what do you care most about? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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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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