Camp NaNo Talk: Let’s get into character


I have been working on my characters a little more over the last few days and I wanted to share a bit of my process with you. This post, my examples will be for Red; but they can be applied to any character.

So, when a character pops into my mind, I have to write those details down in my little black book of characters. I jot down whatever name comes to mind, occupations, any descriptions that I can see (usually followed by a little sketch- a terrible sketch mind), and their general role in the story. Now you have to remember to keep these brief because lets face it, characters develop and change the more you consider them.

Now that I have a little outline of a character I start really trying to work out who they are. Over the last few weeks (mainly thanks to the host of pins on Pinterest) I have merged questions together and developed my own way of evaluating a characters place and worth within my plot.

You have to be a little critical with your new baby.

Okay, that sounded harsh, but seriously; its better to decide that a character is not needed during the plotting stages of the novel than in the editing phases (that happened to me after last NaNo and I am still going through and editing two characters out- not a nice experience!). So, you have to really sit and think; is this character going to really add something to my plot?- If you cant think what your character can add to your plot there may not be a reason for them to be there.

Would my plot survive without them? Would I still be able to convey the story in my head without them? If you can answer yes to these, you have two options.

Firstly, remove the character all together; cut that character out of any scene plans and rejig until everything flows smoothly again. OR, you could send your character into the background; make them a secondary or even tertiary level character. If you decide to keep them, remember that they aren’t going to be the focus but your main characters still care and communicate with them.

But what do you do if your character must go? Keep that baby character in your version of my little black book! You never know when that glorious character could be used in another book!

You have a character skeleton. It needs some flesh on those bones!

Now that you have decided whether or not to keep the character, it’s time to start shaping them a little more. I like to fill in general character sheets that you can get all over the web, from descriptors to likes and dislikes.

My general go-to questions are:

  • Age
  • Height/ Weight/ Build
  • Facial description
  • Any key physical descriptors?
  • Overall demeanour- are they happy go lucky, depressed, clutsy, scared? Defined your character in one word!
  • Occupation
  • Allergies
  • Favourite foods
  • Attitudes to laws
  • How they react around other characters

You now know a bit about your character, you need to start thinking about their voices. Even if you are not writing from the characters point of view, you need to understand how they would interact with the character(s) who you are writing from. So many times, I read in books that all characters tend to react, interact, and act the same when they are secondary characters. But think about it, if you glance around all the ‘secondary people’ in your own lives, they still have personalities of their own!

So a few little tasks I use to explore my characters voice…

The diary entry; I grab a blank piece of paper and scratch out a diary entry for the character; thinking about how they would feel about a situation.

Dear Diary,

Why? Why cant that oaf just let me be? He likes to see me squirm,
feel him batter me without his hands. I think I would prefer him to hit
me once more. No-one has touched me in so long.
He told me to go again last night, he knows the night scares me.
He sent me for a sweet little thing. I couldn’t do it. I told him
I did. I lied. Oh heavens. I lied.
Does he know of you diary? I bet he does. Of course he does.
I’m sorry diary.
He can’t find out about this.
I must burn you once they light the fires.
I’m sorry diary.
I guess there is no-one he can’t make me hurt.
I’m sorry diary.

You can tell so much if you read a diary entry, and you don’t need to show these to anyone, so gather stacks of these up. If you wanted to, and I am considering doing this after Camp NaNo, write a diary entry after each scene, for each character. If you really want to know how the character feels by the end of the scene, write a diary entry for it. These, these little snippets of gold will really help you when it comes to revisions; when your going through and making sure you have characters that detailed and fleshed out, these can help you add a consistency, add a different level of emotion, and they can even add to the next few scene.

For secondary characters, if I have some scenes that are really prominent for my main character and the secondary character, I attempt to write the scene from their point of view. It seems like a waste of time, but all these time consuming add layers. YES, layers, we want onions of books! We want onions of characters! We want all those glorious onions!

Okay, this is a little childish, but get a few of your characters to play truth and dare, I did this with some characters from my last manuscript and it is so much fun. I mean sit your protagonist, your antagonist, love interest, main characters, side characters, any characters that interact within your book, in a room with a bottle. Give them all a number, get a random number generator; choice one is the one who has to do the truth/dare and the second number is the giver of the truth/dare. Remember to stay in character and save those conversations.

And finally, if you can (because sometimes you legally/ physically cant) spend some time physically act out a period of time in your characters life, sit like them, eat like them, talk like them. This really helps you learn the little things your character does in everyday situations. You learn that they always sit with their legs at a certain angle, or they slouch, or they eat with their mouth open. You may never specifically talk about these points in your actual novel, but you may get your character into an argument over table manners, or have people tripping over their feet because of how they place their feet. It really makes an already well developed character into a fully formed, 3D character.

So what do you do when you want to get into a characters head? Will you be using any of these techniques? Let me know in the comments below!

For now my friends, I am going to go and play a game of truth or dare with Red and Wolf.

Until next time,

Helen x


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