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Creating and Developing Characters with Notecards

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Today I would like to talk about character creation and development. At least, the way that I create and build a character.

Everyone has their way of doing things. I am a believer in doing what works for you and your stories. The storyline and plot are essential to your story. However, suppose your characters are flat, one dimensional, and have no appeal. In that case, people will hate the story you're trying to tell.

I believe the characters are more important than the storyline or plot, and this is the making of a cult film. A cheesy story plot, a guy, gets mutated and fights crime, an exaggerated storyline.

Bullies throw nerd they are picking on out of a window, nerd falls into toxic waste and becomes The Toxic Avenger. The rest of the film is the avenger fighting crime. Now, don't get me wrong. I loved the Toxic Avenger when it came out. But it wasn't for the unbelievable super-hero creating plot or the clumsy storyline of countless encounters with the Toxic Avenger and baddies. It was because the main character was relatable to the viewers and also likable. The retelling of the storyline of a loser becomes a winner; the downtrodden become hero. The classic tale of the underdog coming up.

So, it becomes a cult classic, implying. Everything about it is cliché, yet, it has a following because people like it, even though they shouldn't.

In Pandemic Dawn, I created the main character to be an average, unassuming businessman from the city. The everyday guy who happens to find himself in an apocalypse with no natural survival skills.

As mentioned before, Pandemic Dawn began as a short story; however, after the characters started to flesh out and develop, the story wrote itself, and it turned into four novels with a fifth on the way.

The plot was simple, survive, and find his son. The storyline was singular at first; by the time I wrote the 5th or 6th chapter, I realized there would be multiple storylines within the book.

All because of the characters.

So I thought I would write today about the Character creation and development process that I use. This is what works for me. You can take what you will from it and tweak it for yourself, and hopefully, it helps.

By the time I create the main plot, I have a pretty good idea about who the main character is. The main character is probably the simplest to develop and flesh out because the main character is the story.

When it comes to who the main character meets and interacts with or others needed for the sub-plots or moving a story forward, creating a stable, believable character can be challenging.

Here are the steps I use;

  1. Blank notecard (colored cards help designate characters, i.e., love interest, enemy, friends, groups, whatever you decide each color represents.)

  2. Basic description (the purpose for the character)

  3. Name and history (if needed)

  4. Place the character in the container.

Pretty simple, but extremely useful!

First off, the blank notecards. Notecards are essential for keeping track of your characters, plot, storyline, events, unique objects, or objectives. I go through many of these for each novel.

I love the colored notecards; as mentioned earlier, the colors can help you organize or create groups.

When using the colored notecards for laying out your storylines, they help you keep track of which storyline they belong to by color.

Secondly, write the reason/purpose for the character, a short description of why it exists. Don't just fill your story with characters. They need to have a reason for being in the story. Characters have to have a point. Either by making your story better, moving it forward, explaining something more in-depth, or creating an event, something that explains why they are even mentioned.

In a few cases, I brought a character into my story who did not seem to fit or belong. However, many chapters later, it was brought to light why it was there.

I wouldn't suggest doing this too often. I would hate to be predictable. I have done this a couple of times, though, and I personally like the surprise.

So I write a few lines about the character's purpose and maybe a short description. So, let's say we need a character that takes the story from one location to another. We choose to make this character an antagonist. Now we need to create a reason for going from one place to the other.

So we give him a mission.

Character Notecard
Character Notecard

In Pandemic Dawn Book III: Day of Abomination, I created a character to take the story from the secret military base to the mainland. There they would come in contact with the other characters in the story.

His mission causing him to go is he was commanded to kill all humans who resist the Chairman.

Following him, we can move the story and characters from one location to another. Done plausibly and acceptably to move the story forward.

Thirdly, we can name this character and maybe give a little back story as well. Because this character is a Combat-bot working for the Chairman, he is designated a number. Seven-Twelve. A short back story helps define him as well. Now the descriptions and back story may never actually be written about in your books. However, when writing about the character, his personality, choices, and actions are developed from the back story. So it is essential to know a little about the characters you are writing about.

Seven-Twelve is a military Combat-bot serving under One-Twenty (another Combat-bot) loyal to the Chairman. He was given orders to kill all humans who resist the Chairman.

After I write the purpose, I name a character because it has to fit with the character.

Obviously, in this case, for example, the bot gets a random number assigned. Naming a lot of characters can become difficult. In the Pandemic Dawn Series, I have approximately 100 characters total in the four novels. Giving them names was easy at first, then became burdensome over time.

There are some random name generators online to help writers. In fact, I have seen generators that will even develop a complete back story, description, likes, and more. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, deal yourself a random hand, and work with it. It will really bring out the realism of your story.

When it comes to the back story, I only go as deep as needed. No point in listing a character's parents, what they did for a living, etc., if it has nothing to do with the story.

Notecard case for Pandemic Dawn Characters
Pandemic Dawn Character Notecard Case

Finally, place it into your notecard case, preferably in alphabetical order for you to find later. Unless you need to list them by affiliation, or in this case, under "C" for Combat-bot.

As you write your story, things that happen to the character can be listed on the card. If the character loses an eye, it's important to remember which one. If the character takes something from someone or lies about an event, little details will draw your readers more in-depth into the story. I love the details in movies and books. One of the reasons I have always loved novels over novellas. I read a few pocketbooks, and for me, they always leave me wanting more of the story.

I know novels are a more significant commitment. Still, to readers who love details and multiple storylines within a single story, they are the only way to go!

Now you are set, you have your character in its place, you can grab it at any time for a refresher, or to add or remove details, and track them all without fail.

Pandemic Dawn Series Notecards
Notecards for Pandemic Dawn Series

There is software out there that can do this as well. I like Writer's Café personally. Still, honestly, it is easier to thumb through a Rolodex as you are writing than to have another program running on your computer and switch back and forth.

Whatever works best for you, do it!

To summarize;

  1. Blank notecard (colored cards help designate characters, i.e., love interest, enemy, friends, groups, whatever you decide each color represents.)

  2. Basic description (the purpose for the character)

  3. Name and history (if needed)

  4. Place the character in the container.

I hope you found some useful information here. Later I will blog about the plot and storyline development using colored notecards for multiple storylines within one novel.

Until then, happy writing!

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