Novel Characters–Appearance and Personality

Time to Edit Your First Draft

Last month, we went over Story ARCs using them to assess the plots both the main plot and subplots of your novel. This month we’ll be switching gears and looking at the characters in your novel. This week we’ll begin our discussion about characters.

Effective sub-lots create layers and depth, however, characters with complex lives and histories and competing goals create layers and depth Without fleshed-out characters, fiction seems flat. Individual scenes may seem exciting, but there’s no emotion or involvement in the scene. The reader has no one with which to relate. Without well-developed characters, the reader cannot feel emotion for a character he doesn’t know, one he doesn’t care about. The reader can’t care about an under-developed character who’s nothing more than a stick figure without thought, dreams, goals or motivations. As the writer, you are responsible for creating characters that connect with the reader.

Develop a Character Bible

Have you ever read a book and realized that the writer has changed some aspect of a specific character’s life? Perhaps the character’s eye color had changed from blue to brown or perhaps a character born in New Jersey was now from Chicago. A character bible can help prevent this kind of mistake from happening in your book.

The way to avoid this type of mistake in characterization is to create character sketches in a character bible.

A character bible is a collection of facts or sketches about each specific character. This collection of character sketches includes the character’s physical characteristics If noted changes occur in the physical appearance of the character prior to or during the novel, it is important to include those changes. A character bible is especially important if you are going to use these characters in an ongoing series. You’ll want to keep your characters consistent from one book to the next. If you don’t, your readers will notice.

It is, very important to keep the character’s appearance consistent throughout your novel. Your character’s physical characteristics like hair color, height, weight, and eye color need to remain consistent. In addition, other vital statistics like the character’s age and marital status are also important.

Character Tags

Ethnic variations and speech patterns also need to be accounted to each character as well as character tags.

A character tag is a repetitive verbal device used to identify a character in the mind of the reader. More than a simple description, a character tag calls to mind aspects of the character’s personality and uniqueness. Character tags may be drawn from any aspect of the character’s appearance or behavior such as voice, gestures, body carriage, dialect and speech mannerisms, hair, type of clothing he/she wears, scent, and mental state.

Some characters in a novel may appear only a few times, but the most minor character needs a character tag or two to make the character more memorable.

Novel Character Personality

It helps to flesh out a character’s personality as well. To dig deeper into character personalities, it helps to get to understand various personality times. One way is through using the sixteen personality types used in Myers-Brigs Personality assessments. Another is to use the personalities of the various zodiac signs.

Based on one or a combination of both the Myers-Brig Personality assessment and the personalities of the signs of the zodiac, you then ask questions of the character to determine more about his or her individual personality and to discover the character’s hidden history and qualities. You can use the questions from my free Novel Editing Check List that I’ve created (get the list free by clicking here) or you can make up your own.

Ask Questions About Your Characters

Use the questions—and your character’s answers—as the basis for creating story situations and other characters that bring out the more colorful or emotional sides of your main characters.

If you want one character to get under the skin of another, to push his buttons again and again until that second character simply must explode in reaction, then you must know that character even better than the first character does. You must design the elements that set a character up to have his buttons pushed. You must develop and use triggers that will make characters react to stimuli specifically designed to do just that.

This kind of knowledge is especially needed in romantic novels so that the sparks that fly between the female and male leads appear genuine. When you’ve connected with the characters’ emotional triggers in your writing, your reader will also feel those emotional triggers and empathize with your characters.

This knowledge can also help you design both action and reaction. Coming up with such triggers on your own can be difficult when you’re deep into a character’s story, so having the character bible available with each character’s appearance and personality available will help remind you of details about your characters. A well-developed character personality profile can also help determine what a specific character is likely to do when presented with an obstacle to that character’s goal. For instance, is this character likely to run from the problem or stand up and fight? If he or she fails once, is he or she likely to give up?

Create Scenarios

When you know your characters, you can devise situations that make those characters respond. And respond at different levels of intensity, levels appropriate to the stimulus and to the moment in the story and in ways that will increase conflict slowly or blow it through the roof.

Use your questions (and the answers) to design characters and story events that feed off one another, that connect and drive the story.

Once you get to know your characters, you’ll be able to write more convincing and enthralling fiction. You’ll be able to manipulate all the characters and story events and bring out the best and the worst in them.

Looking Forward to Next Week

You’ve got a good start in developing your character with getting to know your characters by getting to know their appearances and personality, but you’re just starting to get to know your characters. Next, you’ll determine your characters’ own personal back stories and goals. That will be the subject of next week’s post.

Get Your FREE Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.


  1. Billybuc said:

    This is something I am constantly working on. I’m a storyteller, and I usually rush into the story and skip important character descriptions. This was a valuable reminder.

    • 1authorcygnetbrown said:

      I am glad I could help!

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