Character Development Tips for Fiction Writers

Back in November 2012 I participated in NaNoWriMo.  As a first time fiction writer, one of the things I found the hardest was keeping character traits straight in my head. Did he have red or brown hair? Was he short or tall? As I was working through this problem, I developed some tricks to help me keep all those important character traits straight. Here are my favorites:

1. Let someone inspire you.

Even if you are writing fiction, you can use people in your real life as inspiration. Picture someone you know or see and base your character on that person. Not only is this a good way to generate ideas and help you remember your character descriptions, it is also a great way to ensure your characters are realistic because you will be describing someone you’ve actually seen or met.

2. Keep a list of character traits.

Even if you think you know your characters well, it is hard to remember all of the details once you are well into writing your book. To avoid messing up descriptions half way through the book, keep a list of all the character traits. You can format this however is most convenient for you. Perhaps create a table with headings such as physical characteristics and personality traits. The key is to keep the list updated and to review it often while you write and edit your book.

3. Plan ahead.

Some people let their characters develop as they write the story, but if remembering character traits is an issue for you, it may be beneficial to create your characters ahead of time. Before you begin writing, envision your characters. Imagine you are interviewing them and write down everything they would tell you and you would observe. What do they look like? Where do they live? What is their temperament? What are their motivators? Their fears? Their strengths? The more you figure out ahead of time, the easier it will be to write about them as they come into your story. Be sure to keep all this information in a safe, organized place that you can reference often.

4. Double and triple check your work.

As you write your book, your character may begin to take on a different personality than you expected or you may decide different characteristics are more suiting for certain characters. It is okay to change things, and you don’t have to be glued to your list of character traits as you write. You do, however, have to make sure everything is consistent before you self-publish your book. While you are revising your manuscript, read through it while focusing on character traits. You should also have at least one other person review your manuscript because he or she will often catch subtleties you missed.

5. Hire help.

If character traits is a struggle for you, a developmental editor may be able to help. Unlike copyeditors who review your manuscript for grammar and style issues, developmental editors look for consistency and structural elements such as character development and realistic dialogue. They can point out errors in your manuscript where you made mistakes and offer advice on improving your characters.

I’d love to know, what do you do to help you remember your characters’ traits?

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.