Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

NaNoWriMo Tip # 3: Know Your Characters

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 26•11

Know Your Character

©Jessica P. Morrell

Long after the intricacies of a fictional plot fade from a reader’s memory, the characters linger with an almost physical presence, a twinkle of personality, unforgettable actions, and their happy or sad fates. Character, not plot, is what chiefly interests the reader because he translates and feels the character’s actions, desires, and passions from his own databank of experiences and emotions. But to create unforgettable characters, you might need to press ‘delete’ on what you’ve learned about writing fiction and instead think outside the proverbial box.

Writing fiction that catches an editor’s attention requires taking risks, especially risks in writing fascinating characters embroiled in an unbearable situation. While creating your main characters and especially villains, keep this in mind: While you’ll shape characters based on emotions and experiences you understand, your characters will always range much farther than you. They will have more adventures and deeper sorrows, their desires will burn red hot, their desperation will cause them to resort to trickery and deceit and their failures will bear the mark of doomsday. So although you’ll understand your characters, don’t impose your own values, thoughts, and beliefs.

To write unforgettable characters you need to know them with the intimacy of a lover. Here is a checklist that might help with this knowledge:

Techniques for revealing character:

  • Conflict with environment
  • Action
  • Dialogue
  • Self-discovery, self-realization, change
  • Reactions of other characters
  • Relationships with other characters’
  • Pets
  • Goals, desires, motivation
  • Making a decision, choice
  • Epiphany
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Possessions, environment
  • Contrasting characters
  • Profession
  • Character tags:

General appearance


Favorite expressions



Mannerisms, gestures


Voice, walk, posture

Questions for characterization and character development:

How does your character enter a room?

What sort of first impression does your character make?

How does your character act when angry?

What regrets does your character have?

What is your character’s basic temperament?

How would your character describe himself/herself in one sentence?

How does your character react when snubbed?

What does your character do with his/her hands when he/she talks?

How does your character feel about his/her body?

Do his/her clothes fit well? Snug?

What is your character’s worst fear? Secret from his/her past?



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