Building Quick Character Concepts: Conceptualizing a Novel, Part Two

When I'm planning a novel, I have several different approaches. If I want to learn about the characters as I write, I do very little in the way of planning. I'll take some notes as I go to keep some basics straight, but I dive in and write.

For my NaNo this year, I decided I'd build my main characters in advance. I'm writing a UF thriller mystery, and I wanted to make sure I knew all of the motivations of the murderers, the main characters, and the groups working against each other during the book.

I am using a flexible template for my character concepts, and it looks a little like this:

Top line: Character's name.

Then, in this order, as fits per line: Age, Gender, Eye Color, Build, Physical Traits (Things like are they good at sports, how is their hand eye coordination, etc), Heritage (lineage, are they British, Canadian, American, are they of a notable bloodline…), Species, Talents (AKA Skills, but of high level), Special Abilities (Magic, etc), Personality type, Occupation, Relationship to Main Character.

Sometimes characters will have more information, especially if they're a primary secondary character.

On the page next to it, I write out in a summary format what their basic back story is. How did this character get to where they are today?

I will also include motivations and goals if it isn't obvious from their back story.

I try to do this with every reoccurring character. One-offs I may or may not include, depending on the importance of the character.

I try to make sure each character info sheet doesn't take me more than twenty minutes. I'll flush these out later as necessary, but these are just quick rap sheets for a character.

Most of the work of a character should take place when I write. At that point, it's just note taking.

I use these rap sheets to help me define what world building elements I will need before I start writing my book.

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Alice says October 19, 2013

Great post! Do you ever not plan? Just write without even thinking about what will happen? My problem is that I don’t like to plan, and I just want things to work without any thought, but that doesn’t always happen. I’ll definitely take some of your advice and start using these tips.

    RJBlain says October 20, 2013

    Yea, I write off of the cuff a lot. The stories I do write off of the cuff do require a great deal more editing work on my part, though. It really depends on the type of story I’m writing — for this murder thriller, I need to know a lot of details about who did what when — and why. It’s much harder for me to off the cuff this type of story, so I tend to take some notes beforehand. An epic fantasy? I might be prone to diving in first and then going back to take my notes later.

    That said, I do end up taking notes, even if happens after I’ve done the majority of the writing work.

Luca says February 20, 2016

The Sea of Monsters is a fantasy-adventure novel based on Greek mogtolyhy written by Rick Riordan. It’s the sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. This novel has events similar to the Odyssey. For example, the two demigod heroes in this book-Percy and Annabeth- meet cannibals, disguised as bullies at his school, who tried to destroy Percy and his half-brother. Another example is when they had to go through the route with Charybdis, the whirlpool, and Scylla, the man-eating sea monster. They also find themselves on Circe’s island (which is disguised as a spa) and Percy gets turned into a guinea pig. Annabeth saves him with special multivitamins given to them by Hermes, just like in the Odyssey. Moreover, there’s an event in this book that includes the sirens. Finally, when they come to an island, the find a cyclops with a damaged eye as if Odysseus has already been there and done this to the cyclops. In order to save their friend who has been captured by the cyclops, they use the same tactics as Odysseus, saying that they’re Nobody and escaping by tying themselves under the sheep. Annabeth even explains to Percy what Odysseus did on that island, because she, as a demigod, believed that the Odyssey actually occurred.

NaNoWriMo 2016: Did the Chicken Come Before the Egg? – On Writing says September 25, 2016

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