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.