Guest Post–Character Design by Carson Craig

As a writer, I am always looking for ways to make my story more enjoyable for the reader. I want them to be able to delve into the world I have built and feel as if they are a part of it. Recent research has shown that while we read a fictional story, we are placing ourselves within the story as the character at hand. Our brains react to the events as if we were actually there. For that reason, I wanted to provide one of my biggest novel writing tips when it comes to character design.

Character Outlines are Essential

I'm not the first person to recommend outlining when it comes to writing a novel. Everyone has their own way, and I'll admit, mine is probably the least organized. My goal is not to plot out the entire book before I write it. I allow myself to think as I write. I want my characters to react to what I am typing, not have a predefined response. That being said, I believe that Character Outlines are essential to your novel. You can write straight through without plot outlines if you want, but your characters deserve a little bit more attention.

You may think that after 10,000 words, keeping track of everyone won't be a problem. When you get to 50,000 words, suddenly you've forgotten the last name of that guy that did something important five chapters back. As a result, you are left to search back through your documents to find your description of that character.

You don't need to outline every character at first, and if they only appear for a specific seen, just give them a name and short description as you write it. Record it all in one location for reference, but if they serve no greater purpose than to sell them a bag of rice, don't bother with an entire outline.

Every Character Wants Something

Make sure your character has purpose. Every chapter, your character should have a goal in mind that relates back to who they are. Their goal may be finding a restroom or saving the planet. It doesn't matter, as long as they are striving for something and revealing a little more to the reader about who they are and what motivates them. If you define what your character wants, you will find that it is easier to give them a unique personality as they draw closer to their prize.

Novel Character Names

So now comes the fun part of naming your characters. Don't spend ages on this. If you can't figure out a name, just write your novel with your character as Guy or The Bad Character . Once you've wrote your novel, you should have a better understanding of who they are and what they want, making naming them a bit easier. Just do a ctrl+h and replace Guy with Boiler. (That just happens to be one of the names I gave to the man who worked in the boiler rooms all the time).

Try to make your character's name tie in to who they are. Different names carry different meaning. Volger carries a different meaning than Adam. Because my steampunk novel, Titan Project, deals with steampunk technology, two names that occur are Boiler and Nathan Axle.

Character Defects Are Essential to Character Outlines

Once you have established what drives your character, you now need to delve into who they are. Just because you have defined what makes everyone 'tick' in your character outlines, it does not mean you have fully defined who they are. Every character needs a flaw. As much as you may want to see your protagonist and the hero, he must have his flaws. Readers want believable characters, not infallible superhumans. Some examples:

Superman is weak against kryptonite and magic
Hercules is a demigod, making him partly mortal
Achilles had that deal with his heel
Nathan Axle had lost portions of his memory from a space battle (that's my protagonist)

Just as your protagonist needs his flaws, so do your antagonists. Flaws can be physical, mental or emotional. Batman is constantly haunted by the death of his parents, which falls more under emotional issues. Character outlines will help you build your character around their motivations and inevitably lead you to finding flaws with them. You may have them already planned out in your head, but if not, now is the best time to ground them in reality.

It's Your Story, so Plan Accordingly

Just as I mentioned grounding your characters in reality is one of my favorite novel writing tips, I must also mention that you make your settings and plots believable. Even if you are delving into science fiction or fantasy, the more believable the made up stuff is, the better. My novel has battleships in space during WWII. It is extremely far fetched, but I have outlined infrastructures and technologies to make them more believable. I recently published two posts, one making a believable world, which you can read in Part 1 and Part 2.

In the end, it's up to you to create an interesting world readers want to place themselves into. They want to read about characters and places they find interesting. I wish you the best of luck in your writing. Remember, every character has something that motivates them and every character has a flaw. It's up to you to find out what these are.



My name is Carson Craig. I am the author of Steam Age: Titan Project, which is currently undergoing some editing (along with the cover). It is a steampunk in space novel. I also run a website that focuses on helping beginning authors and writers by providing them with writing and blogging tips to help get their author platform started.