NaNo Prep #2- Creating Your Characters


In all of my behind-ness I am just now creating my characters for my novel next month, which brings me to the question…

How do you craft interesting and exciting characters?

No one stays interested in a Mary Sue who gets whatever she wants all the time and cliches make characters fall flat for many readers. As a writer, I want to create characters that my readers will come to care about. It’s so much more than what that character happens to look like.

What do you need when creating your characters?

We need to know who they are physically, socially, and emotionally— most of all we need to know what they want.

Each character needs to have an objective

    • They need a goal that they want so badly they will do pretty much anything to get it. They also might have smaller objectives along the way (in each chapter or scene) but they should be moving toward their overall goal to push the plot of your novel forward.

To create conflict, other characters may have opposing goals— and try to get in the way of that character’s objective.

angryotter(This little guy’s objective- he wants to stack the cups.)

Which brings us to motivation

  • Why does your character do the things they do? Why do they want to achieve their goal?
  • Your main character, secondary characters, and antagonist(s) all need to have some kind of motivation for their goals.

And finally action

  • How does your character reach or fail to reach their objective.
  • Each character can’t reach their objective— what made them fail? How do they feel about it?


You also want to think about the following when Creating your characters

  • What are some of the best possible things that can happen to your character?
  • And the worst
    • You want an interesting story? Throw some curveballs in there. We want to see your character react to those heart-wrenching or terrible moments. We see who your character really is by how they react to them. It makes us care more (even if they don’t react very well).


  • It’s important to have internal and external conflict

    • Sometimes a character has to sacrifice something they love that brings them further from their goal.
    • They should always be struggling with something internally and externally throughout the novel.
  • Know your character’s back story.

    • Even if you don’t use all of it in your novel. It’s usually behind their motivations and what makes them want to achieve their goal. Knowing it as a writer, helps you craft believable, multi-dimensional characters.

Most importantly, how does your main character grow over the course of the novel?

Sometimes we don’t know this right away. I usually don’t know until revisions when my plot it tightened up a lot and I can see my character’s arc.

It’s ok to not know this when you first begin your novel. Just try to keep it in mind as you write. You want changes in your character to be natural, a progression from beginning to end. There has to be a turning point where there is no going back and your character can only push forward.


The most helpful book I found to create well-developed characters is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Cole.

In fact, a lot of the information from this blog post came from there :). Some of her chapters are really long, but she poses great questions to really get you in the mind of your character (and also helps to develop plot, etc).

Other great resources:

I love Susan Dennard’s blog. Right now she is posting a series about crafting characters that I have been following— check it out.

Susan Dennard is the author of Something Strange and Deadly (and it’s sequels) which I have been meaning to get my hands on for some time now.

Google Character Questionnaires to answer a series of questions that will help you get to know your character and their back story a little bit more.

Character questionnaires by Gotham Writers

The Young Writers Program (YWP) also has an excellent Character Questionnaire in their workbook.

And just for fun, the Mary Sue Litmus Test

Not sure if your main character is a Mary Sue? Try this out. (It’s actually pretty fun)


How do you create your characters?

If you’re a pantser:

Do you go in with a character/goal/motivation already in mind? Or does it unfold as you write?

If you’re a planner:

What do you do to get to know your characters? Do you fill out questionnaires?

I love hearing about the process you all have for coming up with characters or planning your novel, so let’s chat!!!


15 thoughts on “NaNo Prep #2- Creating Your Characters

  1. alexinbookland says:

    O thanks for this post! I think I’ll look back at these questions you’ve posted as I’m writing my story. I actually don’t really have any characters fully formed yet =/ only just got my plot done haha but I always fear that my characters will turn out to just be me just at different emotional points or different ages in my life =/ I’m not really sure how to create a character that doesn’t accidentally represent me at all.

    • amandasnoseinabook says:

      You’re welcome. I’m in the process of creating my characters as well and I honestly have the bare-bones minimum for them. Writing this helped me to ask those important questions of my characters as well.

      I think that every character I write might have a tiny bit of me in there somewhere– because they came from me. We tend to write what we know (even if it is only loosely based on what we know), and who/what do we know more than ourselves. It’s ok to have yourself at different points in your life reflected in your novel— just try to make some conscious differences 🙂

      • alexinbookland says:

        I will try my best! Hopefully the story I pick can be really character central and therefore allows me to really work on my characters. But having said that, it’s NaNoWriMo and to reach my goals, there’s nothing wrong with my writing pages and pages of description for both my character and settings as I write my novel! Because writing it is where you explore your characters, plot and world and editing/revision is where one makes a novel pretty – am I right?! xD

  2. dianatierney3 says:

    I love how your posts are timely with what I am working on planning wise. I have been working on my character development this week. My inspiration comes from mythology so I have some base to work from. My area ML’s do what’s called crunchtober with daily writing prompts that helps me create short stories exploring the characters. (And gets me writing daily). Music is really helpful in my writing process.

    • amandasnoseinabook says:

      Ooooh that is such a great idea (the daily writing prompts). Do you think you could share a couple of them with me? They might help me figure out more about my character’s motivations and goals :).

      I’m glad that my posts are helping you (and that they coincide with what you are working on at the time). I’m trying to write about the topic/part of planning that I am currently focusing on :).

      Silly question… have we friended one another on the NaNo site yet? I’m amanamarie5187!

    • ejsmith3130 says:

      I have been doing my own kind of writing prompts with my characters too! I find that I get a better feel for them when I am doing some guided writing from their POV. The choices about their likes, dislikes, etc. seem to be more natural and fit better when they come out in the writing of scenes where I’m playing with them. When I fill out questionnaires, and character sheets I feel like I try to force things that don’t work with the character because I’m trying to be clever.

      It’s comforting to know that other people take this approach as well.

      So far I’ve written about 6 different scenes and have ideas for 4 or 5 more, so that is also serving the purpose of keeping me writing and busy until November 1st!

      • amandasnoseinabook says:

        Excellent idea EJ! I never really thought of this. I like this idea because it’s something that you can actually use in your novel or story, especially if you write a scene that is really good.

        Going to try this tonight!

      • dianatierney3 says:

        I’ve done about 8 so far. I love it, it helps me get my writing fix, get used to writing daily and really explore my characters in the process. I feel so much more prepared this time around than before.

  3. Anna says:

    Oh, I already have the main character in mind but I know I have a lot more of planning to do. I tend to take my pantser side to the extreme. Read: Almost zero planning. Lol. What I’ve been doing is just writing out a scene or two and see how the character will react to it.

  4. Megan Sutherland says:

    Great post!! You do wonderfully at creating interesting posts full of helpful writing advice! You’re a natural teacher, Amanda.

    I start off my novels with no idea who I’m writing about or where I’m going. As I go along, very quickly, I discover where the story is going and and flesh out the characters with character questionnaires and back story galore.

  5. Yana Nedelcheva says:

    Whenever I start a story, usually all I have are the characters, and they are the best! I have amazing characters but zero plot, like none. And that’s a ginormous problem, because I have no idea what to do with my characters and I end up not doing anything. It annoys me out of my mind so I’d appreciate any and all advice on creating my plot.

    Specifically about your question, lately I’ve been using It’s a website for fleshing out your characters, basically a better qustionnaire. It has a ton of questions and is very customiseable, i really like. Hope it’s useful for some of you too.

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