Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on taking a character field trip:
Character Field Trip
To make your characters more believable, grab an invisibility cloak and a notebook and take a little field trip to study people in their natural habitats. You could sit in a crowded restaurant, walk around a shopping mall, or go for a ride on a bus. Wherever you end up, make sure you’re inconspicuous (that is, don’t be obvious; be sly like a spy). If you’re not able to get out of the house, turn the TV on and find a show where people are talking to each other. A reality show or talk show would work well.
In your notebook, jot down descriptions of the people around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Is someone slurping their soup or walking with a little skip in their step or scowling at the people around them? Do you see someone who’s broad-shouldered and tall like a football player, or someone who’s flowy and petite like a reed dancing in the wind? Take note of mannerisms (teenage girl nibbles on her nails as she reads her book), style choices (older man with a green spiky Mohawk is wearing a dark-blue business suit), and anything else unique or interesting that catches your eye.
Observing people and the way they interact with the world around them will help you develop believable characters across all genres. Even if your characters are 100-foot-tall cats or pint-sized purple dragons, you’ll want to incorporate human qualities into them or you’ll end up with a very confusing story.
Here are a few fun exercises from authors you can do to help develop your characters:
Watch the news, eavesdrop on the people at Trader Joe’s, go to all the parties. Your characters are out there, waiting to be discovered.
—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of Outrun the Moon
Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together.
—Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy