I’ve found that writing a scene from your work-in-progress can help develop your characters. It doesn’t have to be exactly what will be in the final draft, but it can give you an idea of how your character acts. Here’s what I wrote today to get to know my protagonist.
It was morning. Nathaniel woke up, earlier than usual, even though he was already an early riser. He got dressed and went outside to the bonfire area, and sat on one of the logs, which were used as chairs. The remains of last night’s bonfire were left in the fire pit. Nathaniel started to pray his morning prayers, when his eye caught a notebook lying abandoned on the log next to him. The cover was filled with artistic swirls that looked hand drawn. The artist had some skill. Nathaniel walked over, and flipped through it, looking for a name inside, but couldn’t find one. He felt strangely drawn to it. He didn’t know if it was the appeal of the art, or simply the mystery of it.
The first page had a realistic sketch of a girl. He vaguely recognized her. Her hair was loosely curled, dark brown with thin caramel streaks. She was sitting in a moderately suggestive way. Under the drawing the artist wrote in feminine handwriting: Broken. Seeking love. There was also a sketch of a bleeding heart, with many keys stabbing into it. The artist used dark colors. Nathaniel flipped the page, still entranced.
The next page was in stark contrast to the one before. It was filled with springtime colors, and a sketch of a cute red-haired girl. Her eyes looked lively, and her crooked smile was sincere. Under her, were the words: Naive. Life may be a sad surprise. The bottom was filled with swirly bird sketches.
Don’t read the rest. He thought to himself. He flipped the page, and was surprised to find a drawing of himself. Under his picture were the words: Strong. Will make a girl happy one day. He stared at these unspoken compliments and wondered who said them. He suddenly felt very intrusive. These were the artist’s secret thoughts, and here he was reading them. The artist must be a girl.
He flipped to the very end of the book, and at the bottom of the page, in small cursive letters it read: Rebecca. He remembered meeting Rebecca. She was a quiet girl, and very pretty. She had long straight blonde hair and sad brown eyes. He was overfilled with a strong urge to know her.
He flipped to another page, written on it was a poem:
Salty tears fall down my face
Broken hearted girl
Was this poem about herself? Or someone else? He was impressed by the artist’s eloquence. Attraction flickered in his heart. He wanted to comfort her. Don’t think about her. She’s not an option. Not now. She’s only seventeen.
He flipped to a page with a sketch of Ignatius. He looked handsome, with a fake smile and sad eyes. He looks broken. I never saw that in him. Under him were the words: Searching. Aching for truth amidst the lies.
He closed the notebook quickly and took it inside the cabin. He was still thinking of her.
Recently, I’ve really been struggling with finding my protagonist’s motivation and core need, two vital ingredients for likable, believable characters. I think that to find this, you must look at the character’s whole personality. Today, I tried a new approach for character development that worked very well: mind mapping. I use a free software called XMind. This created a picture of my protagonist’s complete personality: strengths, weaknesses, fears. To start, I put his name in the center. Then, I made a main topic for each of his personality traits. Then, I created subtopics off of the main topics. These are examples of the personality trait or how it affects their life.
Main topic: strong
Subtopics: he likes to exercise, he’s a good leader, he’s calm under pressure.
Click to see my protagonist’s mindmap
I learned two things today. First, find your character’s motivation and core need before you figure out the rest of their personality, and second, use a mind map and a character development worksheet. This forces you to think about your character in two different ways, it uses different parts of your brain.
As I’m finding inspiration pictures for each my characters I’m thinking it would be really great to be a skilled artist. Then, I could find an inspiration picture and redraw it, changing the parts I don’t like or that don’t fit the character. Or I could start from scratch, and draw them how I envision them in my head.
I’m so jealous of Burdge-Bug. She draws the cutest fan-art for her favorite books. If I could draw like her, I would include my drawn pictures of my characters in the back of my novel (even though it’s not published yet).
But, I’m far from an artist, so I guess I’ll have to be content with modeling my characters after actors and actresses or random people I find on Pinterest.
What are your favorite ways to find inspiration pictures for your characters?
I’m in the developing characters stage in my current work in progress. This time, I decided to only work on one character sketch at a time. I chose this because I’ve found that if I try to work on all of them at once, I flit from character to character, ending up with many half-way developed characters, instead of one solid character.
Every day for about a week now, I’ve worked on building my protagonist for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Now, I only have three more questions to answer until I can move on to the love interest! I think this will save time in the long run and create better formed characters. Sometimes, I’d want to move on to another character, but I’d force myself to think about my protagonist instead. I find the enegram types and the four temperaments can help me create believable strengths and weaknesses in my characters, especially if my character is opposite from me, like my current choleric/sanguine hero. Sticking to only one character also helped me focus and discipline myself, two skills that are writers need.
What are your favorite ways to develop characters?
I know these are a dime a dozen, but I made a printable character development worksheet for anyone who is interested. Enjoy!
I wrote this short story for a contest on Fanstory. The prompt was to write about a tattered, stained letter with no return address.
“Sir, your truck is fixed. Also, I found this wedged behind one of the seats.” The auto repair man handed the mailman a tattered, stained letter.
“Oh, thank you.” The mailman replied as he stared at the letter wonderingly. It had no return address. How strange! It looked old. How long had it been lost? Its delivery address was on his mail route.
The mailman dropped the letter into a stack of outgoing mail, even though he felt tempted to open it and read the mysterious message. The next day he came to work and was assigned his mail bag. He rifled quickly through it, looking for the letter. It was there. When he arrived at the address on the envelope, he put in the mailbox.
The next day he approached the house where he had delivered the tattered letter. He opened the mailbox to put the day’s mail inside. The stained letter was laying there, with a post-it note attached to it stating in red letters: Recipient doesn’t live here. A strong curiosity overpowered him. I want to read it. What kind of message would be inside? It looks personal and old.
The next day, the mailman didn’t find the letter in his delivery bag. Still intrigued by it, he rifled through a box that held undeliverable items. The tattered letter was among them. He secretively put it into his pocket and left to begin the day’s work. When his shift was over he drove to a nearby coffee shop.
He slid into a corner booth and mused about the strange letter in front of him. The recipient wasn’t found. What could it hurt if I read the letter? I know I’m not really supposed to, but my curiosity is killing me.
Why didn’t the person include a return address? Is it because they are wanted by the police? Was the person too ashamed to write the return address, for whatever reason? What if this letter would have repaired a relationship, but it was never delivered? Is it a murder threat, or a murder warning? Since it was never delivered what were the consequences? Was it some other type of warning that was never given? Would this letter have saved someone’s life?
He knew his mind was wandering as he sat examining the envelope. Why is it stained? It looked like someone had spilled juice on it, or was it blood? He sipped his coffee and sighed. Alright, I’m going to open it. It will probably just get thrown away anyway.
He broke the seal hurriedly, knowing he was doing something that he shouldn’t. It felt weird to be reading a letter meant for someone else. He took the paper out of the envelope. It was somewhat ragged too.
April 18, 2007
If your love is still as fervent as it was last June, meet me at the downtown Starbucks on April 26 at 8:00 PM. I’ve never forgotten you and I still love you. I’ll be there waiting. If you don’t come, I’ll have my answer: our love was simply a summer romance and nothing more. But, if you do come, we can run away and start a life together. The obstacles that parted us will not be able to stop us this time. Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone know about this meeting.
The mailman stared at the letter. The date showed that the letter was from seven years ago. He had not guessed it would be a letter between two forbidden lovers. I wonder how long Michael waited for her that night. Is he still mourning her loss? Or was he able to move on? What were the circumstances that tore them from each other? It may have been a good thing that this letter was lost for all those years. It may be that Alexandra is now happily married and perhaps, has a child? If she saw his note now, it could cause discontent in her. It could reawaken her feelings for Michael. On the other hand, what if Alexandra was never able to move on and is still mourning the loss of her beloved?
He pushed these thoughts away. He put the letter back in his pocket and left the coffee shop. Fate’s a strange thing, that’s for sure.
Recently, I’ve been learning about the four temperaments. I’m reading a book called The Temperament God Gave You, by Art and Laraiane Bennett. The four temperaments are choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholy. Understanding each one’s strengths and weaknesses can help you understand yourself and others better.
The four temperaments are a very old method for figuring out personality. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C) may have been the first to discover them. His theory was that each temperament was created by an imbalance of fluid in the body, which is why they each have strange names.
Choleric: yellow bile from the liver
Phlegmatic: phlegm from the lungs
Sanguine: Blood from the heart
Melancholy: black bile from the kidneys
I’ve also found that knowing the four temperaments is also helpful for figuring out characters. It’s a very concise method, since there are basically four types (there are secondary temperaments too). This method is my second favorite for characters, next to the enneagram types. I’m melancholy, and in my current novel, my protagonist is a choleric.
Here is an overview of the four temperaments.
Choleric (The Achiever)
Generally, cholerics are people who get things done. They are extraverted, confident and decisive. They react the quickest out of all the temperaments. The choleric temperament is the opposite of the phlegmatic temperament.
A natural leader
Not easily discouraged
Prone to anger
Makes rash choices
Doesn’t like to listen to others, always wants to be in charge
Phlegmatic (The Diplomat)
Generally, phlegmatics are people who like peace and quiet. They are introverted, reserved and slow to anger. The phlegmatic temperament reacts the slowest out of all the four.
Settle arguments (as long as they are not directly involved in the conflict)
Not easily stressed
Easy to get along with
Plans, but never starts
Struggles with change
Hard to motivate themselves
Sanguine (The Enthusiast)
Generally, sanguines are partyers. They like having fun and are people-oriented. They are extraverted, excitable and spontaneous. The sanguine temperament is the opposite of the melancholy.
Life of the party
Inspires others to join in the activity
Wants to please
Doesn’t hold grudges
Makes things fun
Likes volunteer work
Wants to be popular and fit
Talks too much and interrupts others
Doesn’t see the long-term effects of their actions
Struggles to be alone
Melancholy (The Idealist)
Generally, melancholies are people who are serious and focused on the ideal. They are introverted, intelligent and empathic. Melancholies are the most introspective of all of the temperaments. Many writers were melancholy.
Likes serious discussions or debates
Sees long-term effects of their actions
Tends towards depression and anxiety
Hard to please
Critical of others
Not open and friendly
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