The Sweet (and Stressful) Sound of Character Development

Ahh, tumblr. The home of wonderful and wonderfully important questions!

A great Anon with an unfortunate computer issue asked: "Hi Jenn! I was wondering if you had any character development sheets you used, or any that you really liked? I used to have one I used often, which helped round out my characters, but lost it when my computer got a virus and had to be wiped. Can't wait for your book!"

Oh my! I’m so sorry about your computer virus: boooooo.

I don’t use worksheets, per se, but I do have a bunch of exercises that I love using, especially when I’m feeling like I’m in a writing rut.

First, I absolutely love writing lists of “20 Things Readers Will Never Know about X Character.” I don’t like the idea of keeping secrets from readers; that’s not what the exercise is about for me. For me, it’s about all the little things that make a person… well, a person! Little facts about their first crushes, their friendships, their random fears, random incidents that they’ve experienced, that might not directly show up in the book, but will probably show through in their behavior and feelings somehow.

For example, think of headcanons that fans often make about TV show characters or book characters. For example, Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books has difficulty conjuring a Patronus, but can handle basically every other spell no problem.

Because of this, I have long-since believed ("headcanonned") that Hermione experiences some form of depression, like me: conjuring a Patronus Charm involves the ability to wipe your mind and body clean of fear and doubt and overwhelming sadness and just focus on a happy memory inside you. Hermione has so much trouble with that, consistently. But, nothing in the books ever says this about her flat-out.

Hermione Granger, in a buttoned-up coat over a hoodie, takes a deep breath and sighs, looking from one side of the Quidditch Pitch to the other, sitting alone high up in the stands. Gif from

Hermione Granger, in a buttoned-up coat over a hoodie, takes a deep breath and sighs, looking from one side of the Quidditch Pitch to the other, sitting alone high up in the stands. Gif from

So, if I were writing a “20 Things Readers Will Never Know about X Character,” I might write a lot about Hermione’s experiences with depressive episodes before Hogwarts and even during her Hogwarts years.

Then again, if it were me, I would explicitly discuss it in the books, as well, because representation is soooo important! That said, the “20 Things” exercise is such a great way to learn about your characters that it might become a “20 Things I Need to Make Sure Readers Know about X Character”!!! (Just make sure you weave the information seamlessly into the narrative so you’re not just info-dumping information about them!)

And, I also like writing fan fiction about my characters.

For example, with LUNAV, my debut novel, it’s set in a fantasy world, right? So, sometimes I wonder: what if Sadie and Evelyn went on a date in this world, in this very restaurant? What if they were students in New York City? What if they were my students? What if they met in a coffee shop in this world instead of in a forest full of snow and magic in the land of Lunav?

Those are super fun to write, and they give a lot of insight into who these people are, and how their environments shape them, and what the cores of their personalities are. Just like a well-written fan fiction AU, it takes a lot of knowledge of a character to keep them consistently in character even when you’re writing them in a completely different situation than the ones they usually find themselves in.

I know those things aren’t worksheets, but I hope they’re helpful anyway!! Feel free to ask more questions: this was a great one!

Your characters are going to be amazing :)