Unless you’re writing a formulaic genre novel, it’s your individual character’s “character” that will drive your plot, so you need to figure out who she is and what she wants. Once you know that you can figure out the story of the novel.

Except… I usually don’t know who she is when I’m starting out. She evolves depending on what happens. I might think my main character is shy yet confident, and then find out she’s actually outgoing yet insecure. Maybe she’s shy in the beginning and becomes more outgoing later. Even wallflowers need to blossom a little. She won’t end up exactly the way she began.

Meanwhile, my story evolves depending on who my characters end up being. So some aspects of my characters’ personalities won’t be clear until I’ve gone through an entire draft. Or two. Or three. Secondary characters might come into focus earlier. Or later. Or get written out completely.

At some point, hopefully, the story is clear enough to understand who these characters are, and the characters are clear enough to know what their stories are.

Jigsaw puzzle exclamation mark

Writing a novel is like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle with a picture that keeps changing while you add the pieces.

It’s enough to make you consider switching to scrapbooking.


Questions about your main character to ponder while in the shower:

  • What is the right name for her?
  • How old is she? How does she look like? How does she sound? What does she wear?
  • Where does she live?
  • What is her romantic past? Work history? Education?
  • Who are her parents and siblings? What’s her relationship with them like?
  • Is she married? Single? Divorced?
  • How does she feel about sex?
  • What’s her job? Does she like it?
  • Does she have a dream that she’s going to pursue? A special talent?
  • Is she financially comfortable? Scrimping and saving?
  • What’s at stake? What does she have to lose?
  • What are her preoccupations?
  • What’s she afraid of?
  • Is she a vampire?
Film: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) Director:...