Get to Know Your Characters

charactersI wrote a middle grade chapter book last year, Zac Newton Investigates: Extraordinary Electricity. It was my first chapter book – I usually write nonfiction so I was venturing into new territory with this one, but I was excited about the challenge. One of the best things I learned during the writing process for Zac was how to develop characters.

Extraordinary Electricity is one of six books from a series about scientific concepts. Zac and his friends are able to time-travel and they get to observe and meet people from the past who made great contributions to science. In Extraordinary Electricity, they watch Ben Franklin discover electricity the night he flies his kite in a storm, observe Nikola Tesla as he brings light to the World’s Fair, and and talk to Luigi Galvani while he discovers animal electricity.

Before the assignment came to me, the characters were already mostly developed, but there was room to help them grow. And seeing the process that was used to develop this group of characters helped shed light on the steps I needed to take in future character development. I enjoyed working with characters so much, that when I completed Zac, I began working on another middle-grade chapter book almost immediately. I decided to create a character interview for all the characters in my book. Here are the questions that I include in all of my “interviews.” Keep in mind that I write books with kids as the main characters so my interviews include a lot of content that applies to the lives of kids and teenagers. I adjust my interviews for the adult characters.

  • Name
  • Age and Grade Level
  • City, State, Country they live in (also include if they were born there or moved from somewhere else)
  • Ethnicity
  • Religious Background
  • Hair Color & Style
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Style of Clothing
  • Any quirky character traits or unique characteristics?
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Hobbies
  • Favorite Color
  • Favorite Food
  • Family Life
  • Brothers and Sisters
  • What are their parents like?
  • Pets
  • Favorite Subject in School
  • What do they do with friends?
  • What kind of home do they live in?
  • What languages do they speak?
  • What places have they traveled to?
  • Any important family history worth including?

Remember that each piece of the character you develop helps add depth and detail to the overall story line. For example, one of my characters is an experienced Boy Scout – his fire and shelter building knowledge from Scouts helps the group in my story while they are out on their adventure. Another character’s interest in plants and animals helps them identify edible plants. While I’m working on a book for young readers, really building your character and filling out as many details as you can about them will help you create a more well-rounded story no matter what genre your writing falls in.

Proofreading Tips

ProofreadingProofreading is one of the most important steps in your writing process. Everything needs proofreading: novels, infographics, images with quotes, blog posts, and general website content – all of it should be proofread. More visible mistakes equal less credibility. You want to show readers you are thorough and effective, but frequent misspellings and improper use of grammar and punctuation can be seen as a sign of carelessness and inexperience. Even the best writers and editors miss mistakes now and then, and oftentimes, spellcheck and auto-correct features make us look worse instead of better, but you can take steps to minimize those mistakes and put your best work in front of your readers. Here are a few tips:

1. Print out your work. When you review your work on the computer you’re more likely to skim, focusing less on each word. When you print out the document, the text looks different and your eyes focus on individual words rather than groups of words or complete sentences.

2. Mark it up. Take that hard copy you just printed and use a pen or pencil to follow each word and mark the mistakes and other areas that need to be addressed.

3. Change the font. If you wrote the document in Times New Roman, change it to something different like Calibri or Comic Sans. The new font forces your eyes to view the words differently.

4. Give it time. Turn off the computer and come back to your document in a week or two. I know you want to get that project finished ASAP, but taking a break and going back to review it later gives your eyes and brain time to refocus. For shorter writing projects like blog posts or magazine articles, two or three days off before proofreading should be fine, but take a longer time away for bigger projects.

5. Get a second party to proofread your document. When you read your own work, you know what you want to say, or meant to say, so even if the words are scrambled or misspelled, your brain may read it the way you intended. Someone with no previous knowledge of the content will be more effective at finding mistakes.