3. Creating Characters with Depth and Drive

The Novel Formula - A Novel Writing Method: Step Three

Character Introductions

Note - if you haven't already, you may wish to read the previous steps of the first novel writer's method: step one or step two.

Now you've got a basic grasp on your plot, it's time to bring in the cast.

We're going to use a technique to quickly build a basic character and then will build on that foundation in later steps to ensure each character is layered with depth, inner values and mannerisms.

As you write your story, you will probably find that the characters will change the plot from what you envisioned and characteristics will emerge as you put them in different situations.

So we're not going to try to proscribe and pin down every aspect of each character right from the start. 

We'll begin with a broad brushstroke, then slowly fill in the detail and dig down into the character's persona until we discover what really drives them, then we'll keep adding spices and surprises until we have a fully formed, contradiction prone character with history, values and motivations.

Carry out the following steps for each of your major characters:


Layer One: The gameshow introduction.

Write a gameshow style  introduction for your character, a single sentence. This can be fairly flexible, so it'll probably be easiest to demonstrate the right kind of thing with examples:
  • A depressed housewife whose closest friend is her little terrier.
  • A geography teacher with sweaty armpits and lots of nicknames.
  • A naive young prince with a good heart.
Good - so far so shallow, right?


Layer Two: picking apart the overview

Now take each word or cluster of words in the gameshow introduction and ask and answer as many questions about it as you can think of.


A depressed housewife whose closest friend is her little terrier.

Depressed - How does it manifest? Is she actually on medication? How long has this been going on? Does she confide in anyone about it? 

Housewife - Does she have children? If so, how many? How big is her house? Where is her house? What does her husband do? Is it a loving marriage? Does she enjoy being a housewife? Is she a good housewife or a bad one?  How long has she been a housewife?

Closest friend is her little terrier - What kind of terrier? How long has she had him? How did she get him? What do they do together? Are they ever apart?


A geography teacher with sweaty armpits and lots of nicknames.

Geography Teacher - Is he a good teacher? Did he always want to be a teacher? What age does he teach? What sort of school does he teach at? What sort of methods does he use? What sort of geography doe he teach?

Sweaty armpits - Why does he have sweaty armpits? Is it a medical problem? Does he wear too many layers of clothes (why?)? Do they smell? Does he exercise on the way to school?

Lots of nicknames - What are they? How many kids use them? Do the teachers use them as well? His wife (is he married?)?


A naive young prince with a good heart.

Naive - Why is he naive? Is it a lack of education? A lack of experience? Is he deliberately sheltered? Or is he simply a bit slow? Or maybe just optimistic about people?

Young - How old? Does he act young for his age?

Prince - Prince of where? Where is he in line to the throne? Does he have servants doign everything for him? Does he have brother to temper how well he's treated? Is he being lined up for responsibility? Being groomed to be King?

Good heart - How does he show he has a good heart?

By the end of this process you should be starting to get an idea of your character. To tidy up the loose ends, also make the following notes about each character:
  • ·         Full Name
  • ·         Age
  • ·         What motivates this character?
  • ·         Single sentence summary of character's role in story
  • ·         Single paragraph summary of the character's role in story

Great! Now your characters are starting to take shape,  it's time to paint a bit more detail into your story. To avoid creating a rambling first draft, most of which will need to be cut later, we're going to slowly build our story, ensuring all the necessary elements are in place, and that we're not creating any blind alleys or irrelevant waffle.

Click here for step four - writing a short synopsis.