Outlining is probably the most used and practical way of developing you character. It’s nice to have a step by step, written idea/picture of who this person is. Outlining for characters or stories is much more fun than the outlining you have/had to do in school, so don’t feel intimidated by the word. I like to use a variety of outlines when I’m developing a character. Why? It gives me a broader view of the character. Each outline is different in one way or another, asking different or deeper questions, different exercises, etc.
When you begin outlining start simple, begin with the characters age, sex, and write down whatever you already know about them. If you had the idea to give them a scar, write it down. If for some weird reason you can’t get it out of your head that they don’t like carrots, write it down. (For some reason I had this notion that one of my characters doesn’t like apples. I have no idea why, guess I’ll find out later. 😉 )
Next, think about how this character fits into the story, why are they a part of it? How to they influence it? How does it influence them?
If it’s the Hero ask yourself these questions (and write it all down):
- What does this person want and how does it apply to the goal (the end result or plot) of the story?
- What’s keeping this character from getting what they want?
- What virtue does this person represent? (This is, [I feel] very necessary to the story. It’s something the reader can identify with, something that makes the Hero a Hero. Sometimes this may not become clear until much later on in the writing process.)
- What’s this person’s background?
- Do they have any personality quirks? (This is tricky to figure out, but once you do get it, it can be a lot of fun.)
- Does the character have any personality traits that seem negative or start out as negative?
- How does the setting of the story affect this character?
- What’s at stake for this character?
- What does this character fear?
- And other things like: Occupation, age, physical appearance, the basics.
For a villain or bad guy you can ask the same questions plus:
- How is the Hero keeping this character from getting want they want?
- What is the opposite of the Hero’s virtue? (The villain will represent this.)
- What makes this person strong?
- Why should we fear this person?
- How does this person cause the Hero trouble/suffering?
For a Mentor you want the same questions as the Hero plus:
- What Lesson is this character teaching the Hero?
- What relationship does this character share with the Hero?
- Does this character give the Hero any gifts? (Physical or emotional.) If so, what are they and why are they given?
For an Ally (someone who helps the Hero), again, same as Hero plus:
- What is this character’s relationship with the Hero?
- Why is the character helping/standing with/following the Hero?
- How does this character help the Hero?
- What strength does this character have that the Hero does not (and/or needs)?
- What disagreement/conflict might come between this character and the Hero?
- What does this character sacrifice to help the Hero?
- Will this character betray the Hero? Why or why not?
As you learn and outline/write more you can tweak the questions to fit your story or your writing style, but those are the basic need-to-know outline questions. There are a lot of books out there that you can find to help you outline your characters, but my favorite (time for a shameless plug, 🙂 ) is the One Year Adventure Novel writing curriculum. (There is a link to the site in my website links, or you can click on the banner.)
I also enjoy creating my own questions, ones that help me really get my thinking cap on and create a deeper, more real character. Another outlining system I’ve used was created by a friend. Here is a summary of the first stage in the outline:
- Describe this character in one sentence.
- Describe this character with several key words.
- Describe this character in one paragraph.
- Describe this character with several phrases.
- Describe this character with several paragraphs.
- Write a few similes or metaphors describing this character.
If you want the full outline, visit his blog here.
That’s really all there is to outlining. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below.
Thanks for reading!