Character Development: Step One

Before you can get into a story, you need to know who it’s about. As you keep planning– and even after you are into your story–other people you haven’t thought of will crop up. Not all of them will need the whole development treatment, but if they are in your head this early, they’re probably pretty important to the story and you should meet them as soon as possible. So, let’s get started.

who is your character- character development writing repair

Name that Character

This is tricky, but needs to be done before you start writing. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve started writing before I had my character’s name set in stone, and even though find/replace works well on a computer, it’s tricky getting your mind to do that. You can wait until after you get pictures ready, but do it before you move on to the interview step.

There are a ton of good name generators out there. The main one I use is Though they have a lot of dragon, elf, wizard, and gnome name generators, about halfway down the page are the “Real Name Generators.” They run the gamut from Aboriginal to Zulu names. Since most of my characters are American, I use them all pretty freely–even mixing a Somalian first name and English last name in one case. Like I said, there are tons of these, but this one’s my go-to.

What Does Your Character Look Like?

You have an idea in your mind of who he or she is. It’s vague and a little fuzzy? Let’s get that taken care of.

As in everything, internet searches are your friend. Right now, I’m beginning a series about a detective. I need to know my detective a little better before I dive in. What do I need him to look like? Right now, he’s a little fuzzy. Time for an internet image search.

I typed in “brown hair thirty male” and miles and miles of images popped up. Why Demi is included in that is beyond me… maybe because she only dates men who are under thirty? Who knows. But, you get the idea.

screen shot brown hair thirty male
brown hair thirty male

You can keep narrowing it down. For every aspect of the character you already know you want, type it in.

brown hair and eyes thirty year old male
“brown hair” “brown eyes” thirty male

Notice how I use quotation marks in the search? If you ask for results for brown hair, you will get results for everything brown (including shoes, broom handles, and the ‘does my poo look weird’ chatrooms, which I really hope don’t exist) and everything hair (from new trends to ‘should this be growing here’ stuff). But, if you use quotes, you will only get results where the words brown and hair are together in that exact configuration–“brown hair.”

Keep narrowing the search until you see your character. I guarantee that someone will jump out at you. When he or she does, grab that picture!

This isn’t for the book cover so there is nothing wrong with you downloading the picture and squirreling it away for reference. Believe me, it will make keeping that character’s voice in your head a lot easier.

I do know people who like to pick someone from a movie who is like their character and use their picture. That’s perfectly fine, but I tend to go into their head with too many presuppositions if I do that, so I try to pick random people I’ve never seen before.

Start a folder on your computer with these pictures, rename the files with the names of your characters. That way, any time you need to, you can refer to them. If you end up using Scrivener, I’ll show you later where to put these pictures for easy access.


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