NaNoWriMo Bootcamp #3 – Character Building

I hope you all had fun plotting your novel this past week, because now we’re moving on to building your characters!

First, to warm up your brain…

Drop and give me 20!

This time, I want you to go to this random item generator, have it generate you a few random items, and then you’re going to make a list of 20 things/words that apply to the character who would own those items. And NOT “My character owns these items.” For example, the generator gave me a pair of knitting needles, a needle, and a key, and this makes me think that:

  • My character is a man
  • spy
  • on a plane, so can’t have his normal tools
  • using knitting needles, a sewing needle, and a key to steal something
  • though he really does know how to knit
  • he also has yarn
  • really likes silk yarn
  • makes his own socks
  • very tall
  • … etc., etc., etc.

Give us your items and your 20 things in the comments below! No wrong answers here, just lots of fun!

Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about characterization and how to do it. First, I want you to take a moment and brainstorm all the things you think you should know about a character. Ready? Go!

Got some ideas? Good. I’m sure all of them are excellent choices, and they probably fall into one of the categories below…

  • Physical attributes – Pretty self explanatory, but you need to know what your character looks like. Or in the case of characters like Mystique, what she’s capable of looking like. Height, weight, eye color, hair, skin, etc., and beyond. Now, you may not mention all of these things in your story, and for the sake of all that is holy, please do NOT start your story by describing your character, having your character describe themselves, or at any point having the character frankly examining themselves in the mirror unless it’s relevant to the plot. Details like these should come out naturally and only if they are relevant.
  • Social/Economic attributes – These are things like what country is your character from? What economic class do they come from? How much money do they make a year? What ethnicity are they? This will help inform things like what politics they favor and who they will tend to side with in an altercation. Most, if not all, of this information won’t be explicitly stated in your story, but will inform your character’s choices, so it’s good to know.
  • Personality traits – What kind of person is your character? What’s their attitude like? What kind of music do they like to listen to? What are their favorite colors? What are they afraid of? Things like their attitude is going to inform their actions and dialog, but their favorite color might never come up if it has no bearing on the story. But creating backstory sure is fun!
  • Skills/Talents – Can they play an instrument? Are they insanely good at math? Can they paint/draw/sew? What sorts of things is your character good at and what do they have an innate ability with? Are they a savant at broom riding or have they struggled for years to perfect their jazz clarinet solos? Again, some of this might be relevant, some not, but it’s a lot of fun to think about.
  • Motivation – This is the most important part of building a character. There are three kinds of motivation: Public, Conscious, and Subconscious. Public is what they tell OTHER people is the reasoning behind their actions. Conscious is what they THINK is driving their actions. Subconscious is why they are REALLY doing what they are doing. Sometimes all three are the same, more often, especially in the case of main characters, they are three different things. These motivations determine why the characters do anything and everything, and as such need to be well defined in your head.

Got all that? Sweet. Now it’s time to start building some characters yourself and to help with that process I’ve created a form just for you. It has a lot of the stuff we just talked about above, some other stuff, and maybe you’ve thought of even more. Perfect, write it on! Download the pdf here, or check out the image below:


Pretty straight forward! Don’t worry if you can’t draw, that box is just a spot to put whatever helps you visualize the character. Maybe it’s a sketch of their face, maybe it’s the symbol for their religion, maybe it’s something else entirely. And if you don’t know right now what some of the blanks should be, that’s just fine, start brainstorming what you do know. Let’s try filling this out for Harry Potter first. Ready? Go!

Excellent! Great job. Want to see what I put down for Harry? Your answers might be different from mine, these are just how I see the character:


See how much fun this is! I have a friend who just spends hours creating characters that he puts into a folder until they are useful. Now, I’m not saying you need to go THAT far, but I would advise printing out one of the character recipes for each character you’re going to have in your story, good, bad, and neutral. It will really help you get to know them and make it easier to decide what they would do in certain situations.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go forth and get to know your characters a little bit better, and we’ll see you back here next week for World Building! Until then, happy writing!



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