If you’ve followed more than a couple blogs about writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably noticed that most writers will claim one of two things is the most important aspect of any novel: character or plot. And before you ask, I suspect the only author you’re likely to know of who thought worldbuilding truly was the most crucial aspect of story was Tolkien. (Feel free to mention others if you know about them. I don’t.)
You might be wondering what I have to say on the matter, and just to satisfy your curiosity I’ll give you the short answer: I think it depends on the writer and the story. Which is really my short answer for everything to do with writing a novel, because it’s hard to say anything more definite in a sentence.
Besides, I’m not here to argue semantics. We can do that in a couple months, when we’ve finished our crazy noveling adventures.
No, today I’m here to provide you with a comprehensive list of free resources that will help you create real, believable characters that people will grow to love—or hate. So bookmark this page and prepare to build the best characters you’ve ever built, one exercise at a time.
(For the record, this would have gone up last weekend except I accidentally smashed my laptop screen before I scheduled it and it took me a while to get the file back. Sorry guys!)
Resources on Character Development
1. Character Creation: 4 Simple Exercises – This is a short but incredibly useful article on Writer’s Digest if you’re just getting started with your character creation. The four writing exercises outlined in this article won’t take you too long, but they will greatly improve your understanding of your characters.
2. Take your Characters out to Lunch: 5 Development Exercises – The great thing about this article is that it has not just the five exercises it mentions, but links to a few different prompt sites where you can find writing exercises that will help you develop your characters further and get into the writing mood before you actually start your first draft.
3. 12 Character Writing Tips for Fiction Writers – This is an article with advice on many of the different aspects you need to create a solid character. It doesn’t go into much detail about any of them, but it’s a good place to start.
4. Characterisation in the Novel – Published by The Writer’s Workshop, this is a really comprehensive article about character development with a pretty intense exercise designed to help you nail down many of the fundamentals mentioned in the article above this one.
5. Developing Distinctive Character Voices – An article with three different exercises designed to help you develop distinctive voices for each of your characters.
6. The 100 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Your Character – This is a pretty massive list of questions designed to help you get to know your character. I’ve never worked my way through all of them for a single character, but combining question exercises with narrative exercises is often the best approach to character development, and one I’m quite fond of.
7. 50 Questions to Free Your Mind – The post kind of conveys them as questions you can ask yourself during a meditation or something, but these are some really interesting questions you can ask your characters if you want to make them really believable.
8. Top 10 Questions for Creating Believable Characters – If you don’t have a lot of time to spend planning your characters between now and when you’d like to start your first draft or you’d rather focus mostly on narrative exercises, these are the ten questions you really should ask your characters before you start your first draft.
9. Character Questionnaire – As you can probably tell, there are thousands of these questionnaires, each of them with their own good points and bad points. Often they’re a good jumping off point for writing exercises—you can use each one as a prompt for some flash fiction—but even answering all of these questions in point form is a great way to start building characters people will believe and understand.
10. The Art of Character Development – This is a pretty comprehensive cluster of articles designed to help writers and role players create excellent characters. It’s also got some more general information on role playing if you have any interest in that.
11. The First Rule of Creating Fictional Characters – A breakdown of eight different ways you can ensure that your readers will actually care about your characters. There’s some great advice here.
12. Character Interview Sample Questions – Just in case you haven’t asked your characters enough questions at this point—or you want to try a different list for each character so you can figure out which one you like best.
13. Create a Character Exercises – This article takes some time to remind you that reading is just as important to your success as writing is before delving into some exercises you can use to develop your own great characters.
14. Creating Memorable Characters – This is an excellent article on Writing-World.com which discusses how to make your characters more memorable. I read this article a few years ago and took its words to heart.
15. What Makes a Character Memorable? — Another article discussing how you can create memorable characters. After all, if there’s one thing that will be remembered about your book throughout the ages, it will probably be the characters.
16. Virginia Woolf’s Advice on Creating Memorable Characters – Whether or not you like Virginia Woolf—and people seem to be pretty divided on that matter, from what I can tell—she does have some great advice about how to create memorable characters.
17. Five Key Ways to Make Characters Memorable – Yet another great article on how you can make your characters more memorable.
18. The 3 Types of Character Arc : Change, Growth, and Fall – The best novels all feature dynamic characters whos lives are constantly changing, even if only in small, minute ways the reader barely notices. This article explains the three main types of character arc to help you create truly dynamic, vivid characters.
19. Character Arc 101 – This article goes over a lot of the basics needed to understand how character arcs work.
20. Creating a Stunning Character Arc, Part 1: Can You Structure Characters? — This is a long, pretty in depth article with links to an entire series of pretty long, in depth articles. Reading through all of these—and thoroughly digesting the information you find there—will help you go into your first draft with a clear idea of where your characters are going.
21. The Elements of a Novel: Character – You can find lots of useful information on different aspects of novel writing at this website, and this particular link is a pretty thorough article about character development.
22. Character Profile Template – This is a ready to download character profile template you can use to keep the most important information about each of your characters in one place.
23. Character Chart – This is another, more detailed approach to a character profile where you can keep pretty much any information you’ll ever need to know about your characters. You can download a copy to edit yourself.
24. Huge Character Profile of Completeness – If you want to try creating a truly comprehensive character profile as your main approach to character development—or just so all the information you’ve gathered while using the rest of these resources is in one place—this is the resource you need.
25. The Nanowrimo Adoption Society – Every year you’ll find a handy “Adopt a character” thread on this forum. Often you’ll even find different threads devoted to adopting characters from different genres. Even if you don’t take a specific character from this forum, the things you read are sure to inspire a character anyway.
26. Fantasy Character Generator – Just in case you’re starting completely from scratch, this generator will randomly produce character descriptions and hopefully inspire some great creations of your own.
27. The Secrets of Great Characters According to 6 Science Fiction Authors – An article with some thoughts from successful fiction authors so you can get an idea what the pros have to say on the subject.
28. How to Use Psychology in Fiction to Engage Readers – This is a great article about how psychology can be used to create amazing characters that will keep your readers coming back for more.
29. Psychology for Writers – This is a whole archive of articles about pyschology that are of particular interest to fiction writers. Need I say it’s exciting to explore? I haven’t gotten through them all yet, but I’m fascinated and eager to continue reading until I do.
30. Creating a Character Template – A guide to creating your own character template to use every time you start working with a new character.
31. Character Sketch — Kindly left in the comments for me, this is a great article by Matt Herron about how to create characters using Scrivener.
32. Developing Themes in Your Stories: Character Arcs — This is a post on one of my favourite blogs, DIY MFA, with a series of exercises to help you develop character arcs.
You can find thousands of articles and exercises designed to help you build your characters all over the web, but these are the ones I think you’ll find most useful. This list represents dozens of different approaches to creating believable, dynamic fictional characters, and I intend to add to it every year.
Is there a resource you’d really like to see added to this list? Let me know in the comments below or via email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .