6 Ways You Can Know Your Characters Better

C2Do you ever get feedback from a beta reader, editor, or critique partner to the effect of: “Something is missing from what you (the writer) know about your characters versus what is showing up on the page.”

Writers have a tendency to bring their characters to life in their heads before they come to life on the page. Or hold on to who they thought the character was, and refrain from letting the character evolve as the book goes on–and subsequently go back and edit according.

And most commonly, through the editing process, they edit away certain characteristics or motives and forget what is left.

Below are some tips and tricks I tell my authors or writers at conferences to help them better understand their characters:

  • Letters: I love this tip. Write an open letter or diary entry from your character’s POV. Get their voice out and make sure it’s different than yours.
  • Family Map: Do you have a complete cast of characters? Don’t hesitate to do a family tree or historical family map that covers time or territory.
  • Color coding edit: Writing historical, mystery, or setting-sensitive subject matter? Don’t forget to print out your manuscript, get the highlighters out and color code important things like clues, red herrings, character traits, setting quirks and more to make sure everything is cohesive.
  • Dialogue: If you did a blind test (with no dialogue tags) would you know who is speaking? Characters must have unique ways of speaking that are different than one another. Dialogue is the one way they can speak for themselves, don’t let it go to waste.
  • Sketch: Write a character sketch with only characteristics that you’ve written in the current draft of your book. No extra notes. Is it complete? Add back in what’s missing.
  • Follow this checklist!


Q: How do you make your characters stand out after the book is done?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

9 thoughts on “6 Ways You Can Know Your Characters Better

  1. I plan to go through my draft and pull out the dialogue from each of my characters to make sure it’s cohesive and distinct. I think that’s really important to distinctive voice!


  2. I find it really helpful to ask a friend to read the dialog out loud without tags. Then you really get a sense if each characters has a distinct voice, or if you’re just making it distinct in your own head. Thanks for the great tips!


  3. Reblogged this on Murder Blog and commented:
    These are great tips for anyone struggling with character development. Personally, I create a complete person in my mind. I use different points in my life or someone close to me to create a full human being. I also find that it helps to write in first person. Thus, actually becoming the main character. For supporting characters I write down their traits. Who they are, what they stand for, how they speak. Carly Watters has some great tips to take that one step further.


  4. I love to do character “interviews.” It’s sometimes a challenge, but it forces me to look deeper and get to know them in a way that improved their story and my telling of it :)


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