The Sims 3 is considered one of the most popul...
The Sims 3 is considered one of the most popular games of the 2010s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of the people I know who are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year are scattered across various states, so we recently formed a Facebook group plotting, planning, conversing, and whining. A few days ago, our discussion turned to alternative tools we use to develop various parts of our writing, like character or setting.

Characterization, for me, is probably the most important part of my story, likely because it is something I have always struggled with. It is not that I tend to poorly create characters. Rather, in fiction I always worked very hard to distance the characters from me, resulting in stereotypical and often very flat characters.

And really, no one wants to ready story if the characters aren’t interesting.

One of the things I learned in a fiction workshop that has actually stuck with me over the past 4 or 5 years is to know my characters. If you can’t think of a plot, put your character in a situation they would obviously be uncomfortable in, and see what they do. Considering this has helped me write a lot in the past.

It’s a bit harder for me to have a vague idea of the plot but not a strong idea of who my characters are. If I can develop a good character, I can write a story. But for NaNo this year, I seem to be working in reverse. I have developed a vague notion of the plot and what events/actions a variety of characters will need to go through in order for the plot to succeed. All I know about these characters is that they are women.

Thanks to my NaNo support group, I am returning to one of my favorite games, The Sims, to help me develop a sense of who each of my characters are. If you have never played The Sims, the third installment of the game introduced a variety of traits that you give to your Sims. In the base game, you have a max of 5 traits per adult Sim, but with the University Life expansion you can add an additional two traits for earning a degree and reaching the top of a social group. I find this limitation really helpful because it allows me to focus on the defining characteristics of each of my Sims. I noticed that sometimes even if you don’t give a trait to a specific Sim, you may still see some of those elements.

For example, I almost never use the clumsy trait. It was randomly assigned to one of my Sims, and later, her daughter would trip all the time even though she did not have the clumsy trait herself. While this may be a glitch (I haven’t noticed it too much), thinking about character development in this way is going to force me to decide on the major traits each of my characters will associate with, with the ultimate goal being not to have all of my characters have the same traits. This will also make it easy because I sometimes like to create my characters in the Sims and “play” them in Sims worlds.

Because my plot is partially developed already, I’m going to spend some time over the weekend creating my characters and getting to know who they are. Hopefully, this means oodles of fun playing The Sims or a lot of productivity because Sims-style characterization worked for me. We will see.

What do you use to develop characters for your writing? What tips or resources do you have that might help develop stronger characters?