Let’s get one thing straight: I loathe character charts.
I struggle immensely with character development, and I’ve filled out one too many charts about my main characters. The ones with 500+ questions are, for whatever awful reason, the ones I lean toward most, and maybe that’s part of the problem.
Either way, I never finish them; they bore me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. After a while, it starts to feel like I’m pulling answers out of thin air with no context whatsoever.
My main character’s favorite color is purple, she doesn’t like any meat but chicken, and her most important possession is her Catcher in the Rye book that she’s written in the margins of…okay?
These are all important things, but the process of discovering them would be dull if I did so with a character chart (I didn’t), and I would still hardly feel like I know her. I don’t get to interact with these facts at all, I’m just putting them down somewhere.
After a few years of hating myself while filling out character charts, I decided to give up on them completely and find a new, more enjoyable way of developing my characters. Here’s just a few:
1. Make playlists for them.
A few months ago, I began putting together playlists for every single one of my characters (my favorites of which, you can find here and here). I considered the type of music/artists they would listen to, the songs by those artists most likely to elicit emotion from them, songs that may remind them of other characters, what they would do while listening to the music I chose, etc. Through that process, I’ve found that I got to know each of them a bit better.
The type of music one listens to says a lot about a person, but that’s not the only reason this helps. The experience of listening to music is a very human one, and imagining characters listening to something they enjoy and reacting to it makes them seem a lot more “real.”
2. Journal from their point of view.
This has less to do with making each character seem “real” and more to do with distinguishing them from one another. Journaling from their points of view helps to develop unique voices for each of them.
You can journal about anything, really. Journaling about events that actually occur in your novel/story helps to organize and understand what each character might be thinking.
My favorite thing to do, though, is look at prompts (1, 2, 3) and answer them as each character. This is similar to character charts, but it calls for more elaboration and better allows you to put yourself in your character’s place. Plus, at least for me, it’s just more fun.
3. Write them into any and every prompt response.
Prompts don’t always have to be answered with new characters, I’ve come to learn. Writing your characters into situations that they would never be in in your novel helps you to figure out their personality, what their motivations typically are, etc. It also keeps your mind geared toward your project during the times you’re stuck!
4. Flesh out their hobbies & interests.
One of my favorite things to do when developing my characters is look at a list of hobbies and interests and find what I’m drawn to most for each character. That’s the easiest part of this — the part that you’d do when filling out a character chart.
But anyone can read or play video games. It’s what makes the hobby unique to your character that matters, that makes what the character does in their free time seem less forced. Think up situations where your character’s interests or hobbies would interact with other aspects of their personality or life.
For example, my character Lily is really into calligraphy. Anyone can learn calligraphy, but it’s unique to her because she frequently writes her boyfriend letters in pretty, cursive fonts. My character Maddie runs, but only during the mornings she wakes up and can’t get back to sleep. Her boyfriend, Aiden, loves to draw, but he is obsessed with comics, so he typically draws superheros and wants to be a comic artist.
Yeah, you get the point.
5. Put them in your place.
You’re always putting yourself in their shoes, so why not put them in yours?
This one is something I usually just find myself doing, but I thought I’d include it. When I’m in situations where I can zone out and daydream, like on the bus or in class, I often will imagine my characters in the same situation and what they would be thinking about or doing, how they would react to what I’m hearing and seeing.
This makes daily life a lot more interesting, and you’ll never believe just how many ideas can come to mind.
Thanks for reading! What are some fun things you do to develop your characters? Let me know!