author, creative writing, writers, writing

5 things you need to know about your characters before you write your novel

Creating characters is one of the most exciting parts of novel writing. Getting to know your heroes, your villains, your story’s main players is a lot of fun. You’ll learn more about them as you write, at that exploration is the best way to understand them completely. But before you start writing, there are five things you need to know about them. Take a look:

Starting simply, it’s very helpful to have character names before you start. I can’t pretend I’ve not written ‘NAME HERE’ for minor characters in early drafts, but with your key players it’s easier to have the names early on. Baby name books/websites are great for this, as you have unlimited options and they tend to include origins and name meanings too.
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Physical traits
For your characters to come alive in the imagination of your readers, you’ll need a great sense of their physical traits. This covers basic traits, such as hair/eye colour, height and build. But it also means their sense of style, the way they move, nervous habits and body language. You’ll also consider unique distinctions, such as birth marks, scars or tattoos. Stock photo websites can help with this, and you can build mood boards to capture a sense of your characters too.
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Positive and negative traits
Physical traits are one thing, but personalities are built around a character’s positive and negative traits. These traits will define them, and impact they way they react to conflict. Remember, nobody is perfect and even your protagonists will need negative traits in order for them to be convincing and relatable.
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Nothing happens without motive. In every scene, your characters need to want something, as this is what will drive the plot forward and keep readers interested. There’s a number of possible motives such as love, revenge, survival, fear and power, amongst others. Knowing your characters’ motives ahead of writing your first draft will help ensure good pacing as well a deeper understanding of their desires.
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Hobbies and interests
Perhaps not the most important thing, but it adds depth to know your characters’ hobbies and interests. These interests can be used as plot devices and they can also encourage character relationships.
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These are just five things to consider when creating characters. Am I missing anything? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Until then,
keep writing,

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15 thoughts on “5 things you need to know about your characters before you write your novel”

  1. Michelle, I feel for those authors who have many characters and write a series. Making sure they don’t make a character do something against the character’s history must be hard. Of course, it is a nice to problem to have since people are reading your books. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those five are a great beginning! I think it’s crucial to know what their growing up years were like, family relationships then and now, as well as romances, the way they speak, habits, pets, employment…. The list goes on! You won’t need all of this for minor characters, of course, but if you want to bring your MC’s to life, you need to decide what that life is/was, including all the details. Deciding what all of that is AHEAD of time gives you a road map to follow once the writing begins. Some things can be changed as you go, as long as they are consistent with everything else. Imagining them as real people also helps bring them to life on the page.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually agree that these are good to know before you start… but I admit that I have always invented my characters as I go along 🙂 Maybe the next new protag will get the proper pre-writing development—because I now understand (as I didn’t with the first 2 series) why that’s important.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good article, and good points. I agree. I do think however that physical attributes matter less than motivations, lol and even hobbies. Ask two different people about a character they love and they will come up with two very different looking characters, each built around a personal concept based on sketchy ideas.
    Motivations from whatever source are more important. Thank you for the great article..

    Liked by 1 person

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