November is right around the corner and if you’re anything like us, you’re floundering around trying to figure out exactly what you’re going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. Lucky for you, October is here to save the day. Rather, Preptober, as it is fondly known as in writing circles.
Preptober is the perfect opportunity to sit down and start planning out what you want to write this NaNo. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, a lot of good can come out of starting to build your characters before diving into your story.
The Importance of Character
Character is everything. You might have heard the terms plot-driven and character-driven stories before, and we’re here to tell you that character-driven is where it’s at. ‘
Character-driven story, the one story to rule them all.
But MP, you might be thinking, isn’t the plot the story? Isn’t the story important? Of course it is! But you could have the best, most exciting, plot-twistiest story out there and no one is going to care unless you give them characters to root for.
Your plot is going to be your external conflict. What is happening in your character’s world that forces them to change. Super important, right? Right. But! Their reluctance to change is the internal conflict. Also super important. This is how your specific character reacts to the plot. It’s what drives them forward. It’s when their desires and fears come face to face. It’s why the plot matters.
So, basically, the entire story rests on your main character’s shoulders. No pressure.
Where to Start
Maybe you have a premise or some semblance of an idea—and that’s great—but where do you go from there? How do you start to craft characters that your readers (and you!) will care about? Note that I added you in there too! This entire month you’re going to be slaving away over your laptops and notebooks, trying to tell your story. Well, guess what, it’s not going to be as fun if you don’t care about your own characters.
Here are some of the most important things to consider when you start building your characters:
What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What would they do anything to get? Your characters’ goals and motivations are what drive the entire story forward. It also contributes to their personality, why they are the way they are. The reason behind their behavior and actions.
What do they think will make them happy? Usually, this isn’t actually what they need to find happiness. Characters, just like real people, don’t recognize the need for change. They think actionable things will lead to their happiness, but they haven’t faced their fear or misbelief yet, so they will never actually find happiness.
Here’s an example: Your MC wants a place to belong. They think by being a ruthless assassin, they will earn the respect of their peers, climb to the top, and find happiness that way. They are wrong. What they actually need to do is learn to trust people and let in others who care about them.
Don’t forget, too, that it’s not just your MC whose motivation is significant to the story. Your antagonists’ motivations are equally important for having a believable and relatable villain. Even your side characters have some sort of goal that makes them act the way they do. Your MC’s sidekick isn’t “the token best friend” in their own story. They have their own idea of what will make them happy and that will influence how they act with your MC.
What is standing in the way of your characters getting what they want? Often this is the plot or other characters. Those are their external conflicts, like we mentioned earlier. It’s important for you to know the external conflicts so you know where to take the story. But what about themselves is standing in their way? What fears do they succumb to? What misbelief do they have about the world that makes it hard for them to come to terms with their changing lives?
Let’s look at it this way: Your MC has to go on a journey to find some magic artifact, okay? Easy enough. But, oh no, Mr. Antagonist is hunting them down because they want the artifact, too. External conflict. Good, that’s your plot. But what else?
Maybe they are afraid to die and this journey is dangerous. Maybe they don’t believe in magic and this artifact can’t help them. Maybe the artifact will save their mom and they’re afraid they won’t make it in time. Maybe they think they are weak and the journey requires great strength. So many other possibilities that all depend on what your character wants.
See what we’re getting at? The internal conflict happens when what your character wants clashes with what your character fears. Your character is standing in the way of your character.
Note we put physical traits last on this list. If you’ve fancasted your characters and know exactly what they look like, that is perfectly wonderful. We won’t stop you. But! It’s also necessary to understand that your characters’ looks aren’t the most important part of them. The fact that they have brown hair and brown eyes is not really that significant to the story.
You can, however, use physical traits to your advantage, if they are important to the story. Things like scars and tattoos, for example, can tell you a lot about a person. Using the same example from before, maybe the fact that your character has brown eyes and hair is important because literally everyone else has blonde hair and blue eyes. That would be significant.
Other details like that can help your characters stand out and give you more insight to who they are, what they do, and what their place in the story is. Don’t discount physical traits, but make sure to emphasize physical traits that tell you something about them.
Here is a list of 20 general and specific questions to help get you started on creating your characters. Try to answer some of these questions for each of your characters.
- What is their name? Does their name have significance?
- What do they look like? Do they have any features that stand out?
- What is their age?
- What are some of their personality traits? MBTI/Enneagram type?
- What is their role in the story?
- What do they want?
- What is standing in the way of them getting what they want?
- What is their greatest fear?
- What is their misbelief about the world?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What do they think will make them happy? What will actually make them happy?
- Do they have any secrets or regrets?
- How do they change by the end of the story?
- What is their backstory?
- What do they do for a living?
- What are some of their favorite things? Least favorite things?
- What is their biggest pet peeve?
- On an average day, what are they wearing?
- What are some of their habits and mannerisms (positive or negative)?
Want to join the fun?
We hope you found this guide helpful! We want you to go into NaNoWriMo this year ready to kick your story’s but. But that’s not the only reason we’re here.
Community is one thing that drives us forward every day in the writing world. Sure, we want to write books and get them published, but we will never be able to accomplish that without a few people keeping us sane. The Mighty Pens is a fantastic place to meet new writing friends, tackle NaNoWriMo, and support a good cause along the way. Join in on the fun here!
Come visit us on social media, too! We’ll be talking about some great things over the coming weeks on Twitter and Instagram. And if you’re interested in connecting with more people during Preptober check out hashtags like #preptober and #preptober2020 to see what other writers just like you are up to.