How To Develop Characters for Your Next Novel

Just as Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy rather than a wooden puppet, your characters also want to be real.

Just as Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy rather than a wooden puppet, your characters also want to be real too!

Creating Novel Characters With Depth

I am currently finishing the final draft of one novel and finishing the second draft of yet another novel. All this editing has given my muse so much of a break lately that my muse is looking for an outlet so I am thinking about what I want to write about for my next novel that I will write the first draft of in November. Because it is part of a series, I pretty much know where the plot is going, however, where I can focus some creative work right now is with the characters of this upcoming novel. Fortunately I have covered this ground numerous times before so I am going to share how I develop characters who, like Pinocchio go from wooden puppets to becoming real people.

In my article Creating Novel Characters with Depth, I discuss how I start my character process. First I create pages for each of my characters. I then look for pictures to describe my characters and develop the character even further. For more details, check out this article on hubpages:

Developing Characters from Real People

Develop characters from real people. As a historical author, I take real people and make them into fictional characters. In my book A Coward’s Solace, I developed the Real life Lucy Flucker Knox into a character. In addition to using the research about her in my novel, I developed that research into an article about the real person.

However, you don’t have to use these real people as real people. These same people can be developed into what are called composite characters which combine the characteristics of various individuals. This works well, especially when you are dealing with real people that you know.  If the real person has dark hair, make their hair light. If they are right handed, make them left handed. Combine the characteristics of Uncle James with characteristics of your best friend’s father. Take a tag line from someone else and change it enough so that the individual that you create is unique.

Remember the All Important Back Story

Once upon a time, novels started with the birth of the protagonist and went through that protagonist’s death. We, of course, do not do that today, but just as we weren’t born yesterday, our characters shouldn’t appear to have been born yesterday either. We have a history. If we don’t want our characters to appear wooden, they need a history too. This history is called a back story.  This back story helps to tell the why behind what the character does especially when that character does something quirky, and you want your character to have quirks because without them, they are as wooden as Pinocchio.

I will discuss more on backstory development in a later post (perhaps even another article.)

Building Character Arcs

Just as a character does not begin at the beginning of the story, this same character cannot be unaffected by the events of the story line. Just as the story brings the character that much further down the road, Characters develop through the story in what is called a character arc. Just as the events of the story unfold with a situation crisis, climax, and conclusion, so should a character’s development in the story.  The character should not be the same as what he or she was at the beginning. The person needs to change because of the situation.

For instance, as the protagonist in When God Turned His Head, Drusilla goes from abused wife to contented mother thanks to John Codman’s murder.  In Soldiers Don’t Cry, Phillip goes from stiff soldier to a human being thanks to his relationship with Elizabeth.  In A Coward’s Solace Head of Stone goes from grieving woodsman ready to murder to a backwoods diplomat thanks to Martha’s tenacity. In my upcoming book Sailing Under the Black Flag, Jonathan goes from starry eyed boy to seasoned veteran thanks to his adventures as a privateer.

For more about story arcs, read my article Novel Scene Arc Building:

IMG_8330 final copy

Donna Brown is pastor at Faith in God Church  1 1/2 miles south of Brandsville, Missouri on Hwy 63. Sunday services are at 10 am and Wednesday night Bible Study at 6:30 pm.   As Author Cygnet Brown, she  has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener

She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and most recently, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga

Her most recent publication were two booklets Help From Kelp and Using Diatomaceous Earth Around the House and Yard. Available in paperback

.For more information about Cygnet Brown and her book, check out her website at .

  1. Totally agree, Donna! Totally agree with all points made here.

    • 1authorcygnetbrown said:

      I can’t wait to get to know the characters in my next book in the series!

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