This week in Pen to Pen, romance author Valerie Ullmer stops by to talk about one of the most important elements of any story: its characters. —Dale
Develop Great Characters from the First Word
by Valerie Ullmer
Writers often divide stories into two types: character driven and plot driven. Romances, which I write, are character driven; the story is about the emotional growth of the characters as they fall in love and live happily ever after. The choices they make push their story along more than outside forces do.
Because of this, authors need to concentrate on developing their characters from the first word. The more you know your characters, the richer your story will be.
There are two ways authors can understand their characters before they even start writing: a character worksheet, which delves into the ins and outs of your characters, and a character arc, which reflects their personal growth throughout the story.
There are hundreds of character worksheets online. They can include minute details like character’s favorite foods to the entire chronology of your character’s life from birth until the story begins. You can pick and choose what is important and craft your character worksheet to fit your style of writing. I’ve included a few worksheets at the end of the article to give you a jumping-off point.
For every hero or heroine I have, I set out to find their personalities, traits (positive, negative, and emotional), idiosyncrasies, and physical appearance (including pictures for my own reference).
How your character smells, their idiosyncrasies—such as biting fingernails or their bottom lip when nervous, or your main character having an abrasive personality—all of these add to the richness of your character, and thus paint your story in vivid strokes.
Once you have your character shaped with your character worksheet, you will need to figure out how your protagonists grow throughout your story. This is your character arc.
Your protagonists will have to change because of the circumstances they go through over the course of your story. This isn’t to give your story a moral. Instead, it’s to show your characters’ emotional growth.
For example, what if your main protagonist doesn’t believe in love at the beginning of the story? By the end of your book, the love interest will convince the protagonist love exists. But this can’t happen as soon as they meet. It has to happen over the course of the story, through every scene and interaction. Your main protagonist goes through steps that, by the end of the story, will change long-held beliefs. Characters change from who they were at the beginning of the story.
Get to Know Your Characters
Below, I have linked some character sheets I’ve developed for writing romance—but you can adapt them to any genre. To use or revise these sheets, just click on the appropriate link. Then select “File” from the top menu, followed by “Make a copy …” to save to your Google Drive, or “Download as” to save an editable file to your desktop:
For more guidance on character arcs, check out How to Write Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland.
The more you know your characters, the easier it will be for you to create a strong story that resonates. And this brings your characters to life for your readers.
About Valerie Ullmer
Valerie Ullmer is a published author of steamy paranormal and contemporary romances that include M/F and M/M character-driven romances. Find Valerie: