Prepping for NaNoWriMo: Who Are You People Anyway?

On Monday, in preparation for National Novel Writing Month, we attempted to write a very short synopsis of our story idea. However, some of us get ideas for characters before we know what’s going to happen to them. And that’s a great place to start! So let’s get to know the people in your story.

Clip art of of a silhouetted group of people

Unless you’re doing some kind of anti-hero thing, you’ll want readers to be able to like your main character. That way, they’ll care about whether she discovers the secret formula/gets the job at the bookstore/escapes the robot assassin/whatever. She’ll have to have some flaws, or else she’ll just annoy the crap out of everybody, and they’ll start rooting for the robot.

You’ll probably have a few other people with important roles, too. They might be friends, mentor types, lovers, enemies, or whatever. All of your main characters need to be different enough from one another to keep things interesting, and villains still need to seem like real people with clear motives.

I usually take forever to come up with the right names, and I have a whole post about that over here. Though every character is unique, different systems of personality typing, such as enneagrams, Myers Briggs, or even astrology signs, can be helpful in beginning to think about characters and how they interact with one another.

Like a lot of writers, I fill out character worksheets for my main characters, asking myself questions about the character that make me get to know him or her a little better. Like so many writing exercises, this may seem a little hackneyed, but it really helps! For me, anyway!

Here’s my own character worksheet. I borrowed from The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and a few other sources. I even got ideas from our own MissWorded. Your challenge: Adjust it as you like, then fill it out.

This can take quite a while. Feel free to share your character in the comments. Have fun creating your unique, realer-than-real, unforgettable character!

  • Name
  • Enneagram (or Myers Briggs or zodiac sign, as you like)
  • Age
  • What are 10 adjectives that describe his/her personality? Make at least three of them negative.
  • Height/Weight (or just build/figure)
  • Description of hair (color, texture, etc)
  • Description of eyes (color, size/shape, etc.)
  • Description of skin (color, complexion, etc.)
  • Any scars or tattoos?
  • Does she have a job? if so, what is it, and does she like it?
  • What does s/he like to do for fun?
  • Description of voice
  • What are a few phrases s/he uses more than once?
  • What are some physical gestures that are particular to her/him (i.e. toying with wedding ring, putting hands on hips)
  • Overall health, and any health issues
  • Athletic, or not so much?
  • How does s/he usually dress?
  • What kind of car does s/he drive, or how does s/he get around?
  • What’s her/his home like?
  • Where did s/he grow up?
  • In a few sentences, what was childhood like?
  • What is her/his cultural or ethnic background?
  • Where did s/he go to school?
  • What’s her or his home life like now?
  • What are her or his closest, most meaningful relationships?
  • Is s/he religious at all, and if so, how?
  • Is s/he political at all, and if so, how?
  • Has s/he ever broken the law? Ever been arrested?
  • What is s/he scared of?
  • What is s/he annoyed by?
  • What’s a good habit of hers/his?
  • What’s a bad habit of hers/his?
  • How does s/he act when s/he’s really happy?
  • How does s/he act when s/he’s really angry?
  • How does s/he act when s/he’s sad?
  • What kind of sense of humor does s/he have?
  • How smart is s/he?
  • How does s/he act at a party?
  • Favorite food, season of the year, type of music?
  • Least favorite food, holiday, movie?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen to her/him?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen to her/him?

Editorial note: Bryn’s prepping for NaNo series originally October 14, 2012, and is being re-run as part of our prepping for NaNoWriMo series.

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

2 replies on “Prepping for NaNoWriMo: Who Are You People Anyway?”

Every time I try to map out my characters before writing, I fail. I just can’t seem to nail them down. Usually what happens is as I’m writing the first draft (I’m also a pantser) my little formless proto-characters start to acquire angles and shades. By the end of my first draft, I’ve learned who I’m writing about.

Of course, my way is a lot of extra work because I’ve essentially written a first draft that I have to toss and my second draft winds up being an actual first draft.

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