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Advice on Character Development

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Jan 19, 2016 5:34:49 AM

For the past year or so I've been working on a new novel, and this one has caused me a lot of angst--and stress. I realize now that the main reason I've had so many problems is that I didn't spend enough time thinking about the protagonist before I started writing. I figured (hoped) she would evolve into a believable, empathetic character as I wrote, but she never really did. The result was a first draft with a heroine who seemed...not real. The early feedback I got from trusted friends varied from "I don't know who she is" to "I don't really like her."


Ouch. Hard to hear, but so very necessary. And you know what? My friends were absolutely right. I pride myself on creating believable heroines my readers can root for, but this time I fell short because I was too eager to jump into the process of writing and skipped over the time-intensive planning stage. I've never been much of a planner, and while I think for some stories it's fine to start with an interesting situation or scenario and see where the wind takes you, "winging it" with a protagonist doesn't always work. It certainly didn't for me this time around. Characters can undoubtedly evolve as you go, but for the main one you have to start with a foundation.


What did I do with my novel? I took a step back and forced myself to think about my heroine as someone I could meet in real life. What drives her? What makes her laugh? What keeps her awake at night? I went for long walks and imagined I was in her shoes as I took in the scenery unfolding around me. Slowly but surely an image of her as an actual person began to take shape in my head, and from that point everything began to fall into place. I returned to the manuscript and rewrote scenes, dialogue, and descriptions to reflect what this (imaginary) real person would do or say.


The rewrite has been slow going and a lot of work, but the result is a greatly improved story. On my next book I won't make the same mistake. I'll do the mental work up front to save myself a lot of time and energy on the other side.


-Maria Contributors/MurnaneHeadshot.jpg


Maria Murnane is a paid CreateSpace contributor and the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Have questions for Maria? You can find her at


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Feb 15, 2016 10:30 AM Mytime    says:

I've found that if I trudge through the very hard work of filling out long character worksheets, I am always surprised that as I do this for say, ten characters, not only do they build themselves, but unplanned aspects and cohesive scenes and themes magically pop up as well. Historical relationships to each other are very hard to "make up", but well worth it. It's how I get to know my characters.

Feb 15, 2016 11:33 AM mattwriting    says:

One technique I have found useful is to tell myself the whole of the story as seen from the viewpoint of each character in turn - not just the main protagonist but also the antagonist (which helps make him/her more believable) and even the minor characters.