Diary of a New Writer (3) Creating my characters

(Images courtesy vulture.com and zap2it.com)

(To find part one, check herefor part two, check here)

Where were we? Ah, yes!  I had the idea for my basic plot and a main character whose story I wanted to tell.  I even had a good opening scene.  However, as I began writing, I realized there is more to crafting a novel, than just putting words down on the page.  As I mentioned in the last installment, my main character, Jen, had family, friends, a job, and a new man.  Where did she live?  What did she do for fun?

To get started, I wrote down the general plot outline, a quick synopsis of where I wanted the story to go.  My outline would evolve from rather basic, to more and more detailed, as I started writing and new ideas emerged.  You don’t have to have every detail of the story worked out before you start writing, but at least have a foundation on which to add layers.  Next, I started a list of all the people who would be close to Jen:  her father, their longtime housekeeper/Jen’s surrogate mother, her two best friends, her new love interest, and his family.  More would be added later.

One primary task was to give them names.  How do you choose a name for a character?  Some of my names came from deceased relatives, old family friends, and the ever useful behindthename.com website.  For whatever age your character is, you can check this website to see what names were popular the year they were “born.” For choosing surnames, I carefully watched TV show credits, paid attention to the last names of athletes, people in the news and even place names.  Then, to make sure I wasn’t using the name of someone already famous, I would google the name to see what came up.

Remember how my inspiration for Jen came from Jennifer Lawrence?  Well, I figured the same thing might be helpful to do for the other characters in the story.  Who would I cast to play Jen’s father?  Her best friends Joni and Desdemona?  The handsome Tommy Quinn?  (That’s Eddie Cahill from CSI: New York; he was just about the only reason to watch that show.)  His equally handsome brothers? (Remember Colin O’Donoghue from last week?  He’s Tommy’s brother Graham.) To keep track of them all, I started a Pinterest board  which you are welcome to check out. Having a face to associate with each character was extremely helpful to me.  I could visualize the actors in the situations I created for them.


The next thing I did was break out the 5×7 index cards.  I know that’s a little old school, but I also wrote most of the story in my fancy notebook, too!  Each character needed a backstory.  The backstory wasn’t necessary to the plot of the book, but it helped me determine how a character would act/react in a particular situation.  So on the index card, I wrote their age, their physical description, what they did for work, how they related to Jen.  Also what was unique about their personality?  Were they sweet and kind?  Cranky and short tempered?  Quick witted and funny?  Energetic and capable?  Athletic, artistic, shy, outgoing, confident?  Each character’s card contained their biography; the more important the character, the more detailed the biography.

The plot outline is filling in, my index cards are piling up and I’m a couple of chapters in!  The longer the story becomes, however, the harder it becomes to keep track of what happened when, who said what to whom and so forth.  I needed a way to quickly reference the flow of the story.  The solution?  A timeline spreadsheet.  I also needed to decide where my novel would be set.  A small town?  A big city?  What part of the country?  Would the location be real or imagined?  Those are the subjects for next time.


21 thoughts on “Diary of a New Writer (3) Creating my characters

  1. Is it just me or anybody else thinks that Jennifer Lawrence smile in the pic looks fake?

    Coming to the topic, very useful tips. I feel that website is an amazing resource. Thanks for sharing.

    Now we are getting hold of hard work you have done.

    May I be allowed to ask a difficult question if it is not too hard?

    This might help you answer an interview question if you haven’t answered one like this alreday before!

    How much Jen borrows from Margaret?

    This also makes me think–how authors can create characters which have almost no elements from their persona–as we know it has been done in past!

    Also: I would like you to invite to do another Grammar feature. Do you still get time to open your Grammar book?

    Thanks for being so patient.

    Love and light ❤

    Anand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I must try to find other Jennifer Lawrence pictures and compare the smiles!

      My character Jen does borrow from me, but not entirely. This is going to sound weird, but she is kind of a female version of my husband! If I were going to compare myself to one of the three girls I’ve written about so far, I am most like Joni Cooper, except I’m tall and Joni is short! I certainly hope the authors who write about serial killers don’t share those qualities! I think good research is essential to developing characters who have nothing in common with you. I used personality traits of friends and acquaintances to round out my characters’ personalities. This subject might deserve a post of its own.

      I think I’m scheduled to do a grammar post next week? Oct 15? Let me know if that’s not right!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh that helps a ton. Did you take his permission first or told him later? lol

        Oh so I had forgot about our schedule. Alright. I am glad. It is nice to see various authors doing features–it keeps variety and interest. Though each one of you is wonderful 🙂 🙂

        Many thanks again!

        Anand 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this Meg! I have taken a lot of notes from this. I too have a fancy notebook in which I write the pointers needed to proceed. I’m definitely going to start maintaining the spreadsheet for the timeline and the index cards too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this and it’s so funny because I checked out your Pinterest board for the characters and they weren’t at all what I was picturing in my head! Now I have to go back and change how i’m picturing them!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Love reading about your process! Like wildboho above, I checked out the Pinterest board and was about 50/50 with the way I pictured the characters. I was spot on with Des, the Quinn brothers, Alexi, and Latisha. If I had known Detective Staley looked like Jon Hamm I would have paid closer attention to him! Yummy! haha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I use them for character bios and also a stray idea that doesn’t fit into the plot in my current location. Like a bit of dialog or scene description that I don’t want to lose along the way! Thanks of reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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