One of the most irritating moments in my entire writing career was when an editor told me, before I typed one word of the novel rewrite on which I was working, that I was going to have to write a character study for every character in the novel.
I was like … are you kidding me right now. Are. You. Kidding.
Because it’s really hard to write a character study! They’re super demanding! There’s, like, 30,000 steps for each character, even the bitty ones!
* cue emotional eating and task avoidance for the next two weeks *
Eventually, though, I calmed down and started writing, and guess what? I soon discovered I love character studies! Who’d a thunk?
Since then, I use character studies for each novel I draft (I’ve got like nine now even though I’ve so far published only one fiction book). It took me a while, though, to stumble upon a trick that has made writing my characters so much easier.
I’ll warn you, though: It’s a little heretical. It will probably make some people pretty mad. It might even make you hate me.
But here goes.
A lot of writers and editors will tell you that before you do anything else, you must pin your characters down (see story above). However, I’ve found that isn’t the easiest way.
For one thing, how can you know what their motivations are if you don’t know enough about the world in which they live, the politics that define them, their beloved dead? I say you can’t write a character study that means anything without first knowing where your story is going.
So, I plot first. Then I slot the characters in. This allows me to use them to my own ends so much better.
“To your own ends! Gasp! Characters have a life of their own! They’re alive inside that head of yours! How could you!”
Dude. Can it.
Sure, to a certain extent characters have a life of their own mlah mlah mlah. But also, no they don’t. You’re the one who sleeps, eats, breathes, [insert less savory actions here] in real life. They exist on a page. Hopefully, they’ll come off of it and into your reader’s head, but not if they don’t integrate seamlessly with the story.
So outline the basics of your plot first. Obviously, you shouldn’t start writing first, because then your characters will be flat and obviously plot-serving. Just get your themes down, the world-building, the bare-bones journey on which your protagonist will embark. Then you can write a character study on each actor with a lot more assurance about what they’ve been through and where they’re heading. Woot!
Now that I have that down, I create a page in Scrivener (if you don’t have it, you need it) for each character and write a full analysis for each. I include a huge wealth of information, from what they’re like to what their family is like to what they’ve already been through and – this is important – what they will go through.
I can’t stress that last point enough. A lot of people unintentionally leave themselves hanging because they think that to write a character study, you just create the character up until the point that the book starts, but no no no. You have to take them all the way through the end of the book or, if it’s a series, beyond. So keep that in mind.
If you get stuck during your study for tics, habits, reactions, responses and so on, I highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus. It has saved me so many times, so please make sure to include that in your writing toolkit!
Okay, that’s it. That’s all.
As always, if you want to learn more about becoming a full-time writer, go ahead and check out the Free Resources Library. You’ll find lots of guides on becoming a better writer (specifically, a copywriter), but most is applicable to fiction too. Check it out … especially if you’re ready to leave that day job and do this thing full time! Click that little box below, and be on your way.
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