Character Development Tricks (Nanowrimo prep)

National Novel Writing Month is November and so October is the time to start getting prepared and figuring out what you’re going to write. Today I thought I’d share with you some ideas to help you develop really interesting characters or give more depth to characters you’ve begun to think about…

Alignment

Dungeons & Dragons players will tell you one way to figure out a character is to think about where they fall in the alignment chart. There are two lines on the chart: a measure of morality and a measure of ethics. Chaotic Good, for example, might be a character like Robin Hood who doesn’t follow the rules but cares about doing good things.

You can get a better sense for the nine alignments with any fandom you’re into. Do an image search for “marvel alignments” and you’ll get a chart showing how the Marvel heroes and villains fit the alignment chart. In fact, just do an image search for “alignment” and you’ll see an amazing variety of characters and public figures organized by their D&D alignment. (There can be disagreements depending on who created the chart. Not every character is easily categorized).

family guy alignment

I find that thinking about the alignment chart helps me write characters that aren’t all me. I look at where I am and then I purposefully pick a different square to explore having a mindset different from my own. (My friends and I aren’t entirely sure where I fit, but we’re thinking I’m probably Lawful Neutral).

Here’s one for Game of Thrones season 2, here’s charts for The Big Lebowski and The Office, here’s one for The Big Bang Theory. Okay moving on now.

List Your Favorite Characters

When you think about what characters you still love long after you’ve finished a book or a TV show or a movie, who comes to mind? What characters are so strong that you remember them more than the story they were in?

I think of:

  • Abby from NCIS
  • Parker from Leverage
  • Long John Silver from Treasure Island
  • Delenn from Babylon 5
  • Dr. Brennan from Bones
  • Anne from Anne of Green Gables

Look for what draws you to these characters. What qualities do they have that make them really interesting to you?

Unexpected Combinations

One of my favorite ways to create interesting characters is to make combinations of characteristics or professions that go against stereotype.

For example we could say Abby is a goth with a heart of gold. Booth from Bones is a sniper who is also a devout Catholic. I’m stuck on TV shows today for some reason, but you get the idea.

One way to do this is to look up lists of clichés and mix them up. Take half of one and blend it with another, change the gender, etc. Here are some cliché character lists:

List of Traits

Take a list of personality traits like this one and just read through them. See what jumps out at you. Circle some. Think about how they might work together in unexpected combinations.