| | | |

How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part 2 | Characters, Setting, & Research

If you liked this, then please consider sharing it along!

How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part Two | Characters, Setting, & Research

Table of Contents

Warning: Before we dive in, it’s only fair to warn you that this is a really long article packed full of information. It may take a bit of time to read through the whole thing. You have been warned….

Also, if you missed the first article in this series: How to Write a Great Novel From Beginning to End | Part 1 | Coming Up With a Concept you may want to check that one out first, before diving into this one.

So, you have a brilliant story concept. That’s great! An inspiring and exciting story idea is where a great novel begins. But what happens after you come up with a terrific story concept? What to do next? Start writing right away? Well, you can and no one will stop you. However, you may want to bridle that rush of adrenaline for just a few moments longer and work a little more on some of the prep work.

Novel Writing Prep Work | After the Story Concept

After you have come up with your stroke-of-genius-story-concept, you might consider doing a little bit of prep work before you begin writing your novel. What does this prep work look like? Basically just a bit of clarifying and solidifying your ideas. It’s really simple and in most cases doesn’t take very long.

First Off, Let’s Talk Research & Setting

Every story will require at least a little bit of research to be done for it. The amount of information, and therefore research required can be different from story to story depending on what kind of story you are writing. There are three main questions you ask yourself that will determine how much research you will need to do. Those questions are:

  • Does my story take place in the real world?
  • Does my story take place in the past?
  • If so, then does my story take place in the real past?

If your story does not take place in the real world, then you won’t have to do too much research. If you want to base your made-up world on an area of the real world, then a bit of research may be required.

If your story takes place in the real world, but in the present day, then some research is needed, mostly to learn more about the location and culture where the story takes place. Unless it takes place in your home town. But if it takes place in present-day Paris, and you don’t live in Paris, then you will need to learn a bit more about the area in Paris that your story takes place.

If your story takes place in the past, that will require more research, especially, if it takes place in the real past. You can write a story that takes place in the past but in an alternate past or a completely made-up past. If your story is presenting a time period in the past that is a what if this or that never happened, then you may also what to do research on what the real past was like and how this alternate past would be different.

Every Story Requires Some Research | How Much Does Yours?

So basically, almost every story requires a little bit of research. You may find research to be a surprisingly fun and satisfying use of time. It doesn’t have to be daunting or scary at all. First things first, answer the three questions mentioned above to get you started. For your convenience, here they are listed again:

  • Does my story take place in the real world?
  • Does my story take place in the past?
  • Does my story take place in the real past?

Conducting Research for Your Book | Where to Get Started

If you want to be very efficient and effective with your research, then before you start researching, know exactly what you need to find out. You won’t know everything that you need to know before you start researching, as questions will pop up as you research as well as while you are actually writing your story. However, having a good idea of some of the things you need to know to write your story makes researching and writing so much easier.

Know What You Need to Research by Asking Yourself Questions

The best way to know what you need to research before you can start writing is by asking yourself some simple, yet detailed questions about your story and characters. By this point, you have already come up with story and character ideas, turned those into a brief story synopsis, and figured out where and when your story takes place.

What information do you need to start writing your story?

If your story takes place somewhere you have never been and in the past, then you may want to start finding out what that location would have looked like.

Some other questions to ask:

  • How did the people dress?
  • What modern conveniences or inventions didn’t exist yet?
  • What famous people where alive at the time?
  • What did regular people do all day?
  • What did people eat?
  • What did their homes look like?
  • How would they have spoken?
  • What was a popular activity or pastime?

The more questions you start asking, the more questions will pop up. Write down all the questions and things to research as you think of them so that you won’t forget them. Even if a question seems unimportant or unnecessary later on, write it down anyway. You can write those in your writer’s notebook for safekeeping. Once you have a giant list of things to research and questions to find answers to, go through that list and mark the things that are the most important to research and the things that you know you will need to know more about.

You don’t want to waste any time, so first find out what you need to know and research, then second, look through that list and pick the most important and absolutely necessary stuff.

Where to Find the Answers to Your Questions | Research Resources

Once you know what you need to research, you need to know where to find the answers to your questions. Depending on what you are researching, you will use different resources to find answers.

Some good resources are newspaper archives to get a good idea of major events happening in the time period in the area that your story takes place. The advertisements and side columns can also give you quirky information such as popular household products, special events, etc.

Other great research resources are:

  • National archives
  • Newspaper & Magazine archives
  • Local museums
  • Ancestry sites
  • Local libraries
  • Articles and blog posts on credible websites
  • YouTube, Prime or Netflix documentaries
  • Informative videos
  • Textbooks & historical journals
  • Historical fiction
  • Resource novels
  • Biographies
  • Autobiographies
  • Reference books
  • First-hand knowledge

Note About Using Google to Find Answers

You might be tempted to simply type your question into the google search bar and use the first answer that pops up at the top of the page. That is a really easy way to get answers, however, the answers that get highlighted at the top of the page may not be true or credible information.

You will be better off digging a little harder to get your answer and use the golden tool of research: cross-referencing.

Take Plenty of Notes As You Research & Store Them Somewhere Safe

As you start finding the answers to your questions, make sure you write them down somewhere safe like in your writer’s notebook. Take lots of notes, save photographs and newspaper clippings that aren’t copyrighted. Make sure your notes are clear and legible. Nothing is worse than doing tons of research only to realize that you didn’t take any notes, save important information, or can’t read your own handwritten notes.

Now Let’s Talk Characters | Great Characters Make for Great Stories

A very important part of any great story is great characters. You need characters to drive the plot. Whether those characters be human or alien, animal or mythical creature, robot or some other form of being, well created and well-written characters make the difference between a story being flat and a story being an instant classic.

The Main Types of Characters to Include in A Story

The Hero Character:

The ‘Hero’ character is the hero of the story. He is usually the main character and the one that saves the day at the end of the story. He is also typically the protagonist.

The Protagonist Character:

The ‘Protagonist’ character is the main character. They are the one who drives the plot. The story focuses on them primarily. Some stories have multiple protagonists, multiple main characters.

The Antagonist Character:

The ‘Antagonist’ character is the ‘bad guy’ in the story who fights against the hero and/or the protagonist. Note: the antagonist is not always a person. The antagonist can also be something such as a bad weather storm that destroys a city, or a killer shark, or the tragic death of the protagonist’s parents.

The Sidekick or Gang Characters:

The ‘sidekick’ or ‘gang’ characters are the protagonist and/or hero’s besties. It could be one really close friend or it could be a group of friends like the fellowship in the Lord of the Rings.

The Side or Supporting Characters:

The side characters or supporting characters are usually the friends or family members of either the protagonist or the antagonist. They can also be animals or other such creatures.

All Other Characters

Any other character that makes an appearance in the story that doesn’t fall into one of the other categories falls into the ‘other characters’ category.

Writer’s Strive to Make Their Characters Memorable | Memorable Characters Equals Memorable Story

A big part of creating great characters is making them memorable. Writers want their characters to be memorable. They want their readers to remember their characters long after they have finished reading the book.

When people remember characters, they are far more likely to remember the story attached to the characters as opposed to the opposite.

What Makes a Character Memorable | Five Main Elements

The five main elements that make a character memorable, therefore, a great character are the following things:

  • Relatability
  • Depth
  • Unique Qualities
  • Motivation
  • Flaws

Relatability | A Character You Can Connect With & Relate To

Relatability means that your reader can find some sort of way to connect with the character. They have something to relate to. They can imagine themselves in that character’s shoes.

Things that could make a character relatable are qualities like:

  • sharing likes and dislikes
  • clumsiness
  • hating a certain food
  • loving a certain food
  • owning a certain pet
  • wanting to be funny
  • playing sports
  • having a certain disability
  • sharing an opinion

The list could go on and on and on. Anything that makes a person relate to a character on some level is key to creating great characters.

Depth | Making a Character Interesting & Relatable

Part of making a character who is relatable is making sure they have depth. If they don’t have any depth, then the character will be flat. Flat equals boring.

A character that has depth means that they have a past, a back story, life experience, things that make them joyful, things that make them sad, things that make them angry. They have deep emotions and feelings about certain things and they have secrets hidden deep within their hearts. They have probably experienced hard times at some point during their life and that causes them to have certain opinions and thoughts and emotions. Basically, they have things about them that make them, them. Think about what makes you, you. Is it a certain way that you think, a certain way that you react to situations?

To make characters memorable, relatable, and ultimately, great, make sure they have some depth.

How to Give Characters the Depth They Need

How do you go about giving characters depth? Don’t be afraid to let your characters have strong opinions and emotions about certain things. It can also be really helpful to write a backstory for your characters, even if you never include that backstory in your story, it will change the way that you write your character. It will keep your character more consistent and when you know your character really well, then you will know how they would react to situations based on their past, on their backstory.

Unique Qualities | Things That Set a Character Apart

Another element of creating great characters is giving them unique qualities that set them apart from other characters. Those unique qualities could be any sort of thing such as:

  • a certain way of talking
  • a certain word they always say
  • a certain way of walking
  • a certain hairstyle
  • a certain beauty mark

A unique quality is basically anything that sets a character apart from other characters. Something that makes them just a little bit different.

Motivation | Something That Drives the Character

Motivation, as mentioned in lesson one of this course, is super important. Every character needs a motivation. A reason to do something. Why are they in the story? What do they want to achieve? What do they want to get? What do they want to get away from? Who do they want to help? Who do they want to hurt? What do they desire most in life?

Assign a motivation to each main or important character.

Flaws & Strengths | Spoiler: Perfect Characters Are Boring

Don’t be afraid to give your characters flaws, especially your heroes and protagonists. If your main characters are completely perfect and can do absolutely everything really well, then your characters are going to be flat and boring.

Give them some sort of flaws. It could be a desire for fame, refusal to work with others, a fear of the dark, not wanting to admit to not being strong enough, etc.

Popular or Unpopular Opinion | Give Your Antagonists Strengths

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to give your antagonist (the bad guy) strengths and things that make them soft. Very few bad guys are completely evil to the core. Most have at least one or two good qualities. Things that make them more relatable to the average person.

You will find that in a lot of books and movies, the antagonist tends to have some deep secret that would reveal them to be less evil than they want you to believe them to be.

Giving your antagonist strengths and things that make them just a little bit less evil, is just as important as giving your protagonists flaws.

In Summary | The Five Main Elements of Great Characters

Basically, you want your characters to be relatable, to have something in common with most people, to have depth, deep emotion and strong opinions about certain things, unique qualities that set them apart, a clear and strong motivation, and flaws for the good guys and strengths for the bad guys.

Knowing Your Characters Really Well | Backstories & Profiles

As mentioned earlier, knowing your characters really well will aid in writing characters that are consistent and have depth. Think about it this way, who could you write a better story about: your best friend, whom you’ve known for years, who you know plenty about, how they think, what they feel about certain things, how they would react to certain situations, etc. or someone you just met five minutes ago and don’t even know their last name?

The answer would probably be your best friend, right?

You are the one creating the characters, you are making them up, so why not create a past for them too?

Take a few minutes to draft a brief back story for each of your main characters, including the antagonist. Figure out why they think the way do, why they act the way they do, why they have the motivations they have.

Once you have a brief backstory, also consider creating a simple character profile for each of your main characters.

How to Write a Backstory | What to Include

Your character’s backstories don’t have to be lengthy, full-life biographies. What you include in the backstories is completely up to you. Typically, it would be recommended to include major life events that brought them to the place they are at the beginning of the story. Things that sparked their motivation, things that make them act the way they do, think the way they do. Things that changed their life either in a good way or in a bad way. Whatever you think is significant. Did one or both of their parents die? Did they have a bad experience at school? Were they in a car accident?

Creating Characters Profiles for Your Main Characters

A great tool that many writers use to develop their characters is a character profile. The point of a character profile is to keep track of basic information like physical appearance, background information, motivations, likes, dislikes, desires, etc. You can create your own character profile or you can download a pre-created one.

In Summary | Research, Setting, & Characters

Take a few minutes before your start writing your story to evaluate how much research you need to do to write your story, where best to find that research, and collect the research you need. Establish your basic settings (where your story takes place and when), and work a bit on character development. Clarify who your characters are, which roles they fall into (hero, protagonist, antagonist, side-kicks, etc.) and consider writing a brief backstory or character profile for each of your main characters.

What Comes Next? | The Next Step in Writing a Great Novel | Story Planning & Outlines

Be sure to take a look at the next article in this series where you can learn about the next step in writing a great novel. Story planning, is it worth it? How to story plan and create a useable outline. The benefits of using an outline versus simply starting to write.

If you liked this, then please consider sharing it along!

Similar Posts