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Wednesday, October 4

Day Four: Idea to Novel Workshop: Creating Your Characters

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Four of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The first twelve days will focus on developing the story and getting all the pieces in place so we can more easily plot the entire novel.

Today, we’ll create characters for your novel, focusing on the protagonist and antagonist.

Whether you have a character-driven or a plot-driven idea, you’ll have to choose a main character. This is the person (or people) readers will follow over the course of the novel, and who they will care about enough to want to read that novel.

Some books have multiple main characters—romance is a good example here, with the hero and the heroine both moving the plot forward toward a clear goal—but having too many main characters can be an indication that the conflict isn’t defined yet.

If no one is a clear protagonist, the plot can lack drive, and you might find yourself halfway through the novel and wondering what happens next.

If every character is trying to have their say, you might find yourself with multiple plot lines that leave readers wondering if they’re reading three books in one.

When thinking about who the main characters are going to be and who will be driving the story, also consider who will make the best protagonist and antagonist.

Step One: Choose Your Main Characters

For a lot of writers, character is what comes first—a story idea is born from the glimmer of a character. Something about that vague person sparks interest and an entire novel (or series) develops from that. Odds are, some secondary characters, like the antagonist, will appear soon after the protagonist comes to mind. Sidekicks or best friends are usually easy to add. But the rest? It’s not always clear who will be needed or why.

There are some archetypes though—character types that frequently populate novels because they’re useful, like the sidekick/best friend type. The protagonist will need someone to talk to to help move the plot along. A love interest is also typical, as is an enemy who isn’t the antagonist just to keep the pressure on. Family members, both good and bad, frequently make appearances, and it’s not uncommon to meet a mentor type.

As you consider your potential characters, think about the people who are going to provide information to the protagonist. These could be wise mentors, a chatty gal at the records office, even a double agent. Look at the broad scope of the novel and its world and see where information might come to the protagonist. Maybe one of those areas can spawn a great character.

Consider characters for your novel.

1. What kinds of characters might be in this novel?

2. Who are the good guys?

3. Who are the bad guys?

4. What characters are already forming?

5. What characters do you know have to be there?

EXERCISE: List the main characters in your novel, and any information you know about them so far.

These are the characters the novel is going to revolve around. The ones with the most to gain and lose, and who will play a strong role in the novel’s conflict. At this stage it isn’t necessary to know protagonist and antagonist, but if you do know that, go ahead and write it down. It’s also okay to write down any additional smaller characters that you think you might need or want.

Sometimes you know you want a certain type of character even if you don’t know who they are yet. For example, you might know you need a best friend, but you haven’t created that character yet. Or a love interest, or a rival. It’s okay if the details of that character are still vague at this stage.

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Four goes into more extensive detail on creating characters, with multiple exercises and brainstorming questions to find and develop your protagonist and antagonist, as well as flesh out your secondary characters.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at fleshing out your protagonist.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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