Preparing for NaNo: The Characters

If you’re wanting to prepare to write steadily for every single day in November, you’ll be spending a lot of time with the characters of your novel. Since they will be your closest friends on this literary journey, it might be a good idea to get to know them. What are they like? What do they do? How do they look? Will they dunk their cookies in milk just like you do?

Some authors like to create character outlines for all their dramatis personae. I recommend starting with a simple template. On this template are basic fields. One of the obvious inclusions should be “Name.” Others to consider would be gender, race, religion, eye color, hair color, skin color, height and weight. Adding fields for likes, dislikes, interests and phobias may be a good idea as well. If you really want to get into detail, create fields for family and relations, history and, depending on the genre, species and home planet might be good additions as well.

Then go through the different fields and fill in the details however you see fit! If you are a tabletop gamer, maybe even go as far as generate stats for your characters, and base their appearance and interests on those. (For example, if you roll a 16 for strength, your character may enjoy physical exercise and contests. A 14 for intelligence may indicate someone who is a bookworm, and loves learning new things.)

If you have any artistic talent, you could leave a box to draw a quick sketch of the character. You also could use an Internet search to get ideas for your people (copy and paste can be your friend – just remember, you probably don’t own those photos, so don’t print them in your final work!), or use a graphic design program like DAZ Studio to create your own pictures.

Just like with yesterday’s tip about the outline, remember that these aren’t set in stone! You may end up changing your mind about your characters as you go through the writing process. The sociopathic serial killer you initially conceived of may end up being a misunderstood hero instead, trying to leave his violent past behind him in a quest for redemption. Or the silly, airheaded secretary might have an idea for an invention that will change the world. Don’t hesitate to play around with concepts and tropes. Shake things up. Try something new. Let your imagination run wild with your characters. Try to sit back and let them conduct the events of the story – you’re just the impartial observer recording their antics. Many authors have found that their characters take control on their own, and are just along for the ride.

Remember, you can always edit it out later. For now, see what happens when your well-rounded creations are allowed to play in the sandbox you’ve made for them. And if all else fails, they can all get eaten by giant ninja sandworms, and you can start with a new batch.

Hey, some of the fun of creating imaginary people is seeing how well they can endure the hell you can put them through. Or not, as it were. They are your creations, so see what they can do!

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