Characters You Can Pinch - Part 8

Modeling a Character Outline

Who hasn't tried writing a novel from an outline?  I think most of us have given it a try.  Now whether that process works for us, depends on the writer.  But have you ever created outlines for your characters? 

The first time I did this before setting out was with my last novel.  We know the adage show don't tell.  It's three words that enforce any serious writer with the power to become more than they thought possible.  I found that by making up a character outline, it enabled me to know their full background and motivations (agendas).  By knowing their background as the writer, there's less of an urge to fill a page or pages of boring back story.  It allows us to sprinkle the details in.

Below is the process I used broken down into steps:
- Start with noting their name, age, role in the novel
- Add to this by a list of any close family members, friends, supporters and of course the antagonist(s) to the character
- From here brainstorm these relationships and how each affects your character
- Also be sure to have a clear motivation for their action / part in the novel.  For example, if you're outlining a character who is a killer, allow for a defined motivator - why is he/she going to kill this person?
- Analyze what your character has at stake
- Are there any outstanding physical attributes worthy of mention
- Let your character "talk" to you in this process - conduct Q&A sessions with them (I wouldn't suggest doing this audibly lol but hey, whatever works)
- Expand on their background - how did they get to where they are?  This is a crucial stage to examine.  We're all who we are today because of life experience and background.

So you've finished all these steps - now what?  You go about filling them into your novel like a paint by number?  No.  Honestly, a lot of this process doesn't even see one sentence in your novel, but the process grounds you in the texture of your character.  You know better how they will respond, and what they're capable of because you've explored who they are.

Hopefully, you find that your characters become enriched with life due to this process.  I really feel that mine have.

Come back tomorrow and join me for the final post in the series Developing Characters You Can Pinch and I'll reveal some of my sources.



  1. Carolyn, I'm a firm believer in the character outline. I actually feel it's more important to do this for secondary characters than for the protagonist. After all, most writers know their protagonist like the back of their hand - but do they really kno wthe "whys and wherefores" of the other people in the story?
    When I started writing Unseemly Conduct, I felt I needed to get a handle on the detective, Inspector Victor Dennehy. What made the man tick? I sat down and wrote his life story, up to the point of the beginning of the novel. I then wrote a letter from Dennehy to me (that was a mind-bender!) about how he felt about the new case and the protagonist of my story, Isabel Crawford. It was really fun, and I think it helped me immeasurably to create Dennehy as a character.

  2. very interesting exercise Charlotte - having your character write a letter to you. thank you for sharing that. I just might try that with my next novel - which I should hopefully be starting to write mid-Feb.

  3. Be careful, though - they sometimes give you attitude! :)


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