Many writers say you should know your characters VERY well before you begin, which is true to some extent, but I think it depends on what sort of writer you are. Obviously, writers like George R.R. Martin probably know everything about their characters and their backstories because they HAVE TO. When it comes to his series, a lot of the action depends on what has happened to his characters in the past. He knows who will die, where they will go, and how every single action will develop his stories. However, this course of action isn’t necessary for every writer.
So, what should you know about your characters before you begin? How well should you know their backstory? What should you plan out? Here are a few tips to get you started.
You should have general idea of where your character wants to go.
Meaning—you should know your character’s motivation and what their goals are. You can’t write a story without character growth, so this is something you NEED to know. Even if the character is unsure of their future, we need to know what they want. They need to want something. You can always switch up how they get there, but your readers should always know what they want/need.
You should know why your characters are the way they are.
You need to know about their past if you want to write about who they are currently. If a character is mean and nasty, usually there’s a reason why they are that way. You don’t have to tell your readers right off the bat, but it can be exposed slowly over the course of your novel. This goes with villains needing motive. Most people aren’t just evil because they feel like being evil. They usually think they’re the hero, so work with that to develop each and every character.
You need to understand your characters relationships to each other.
How will they meet? How do they already know each other? How will their relationships grow? What are the events that will tie your characters together? It’s important that you know how your characters will interact and support each other.
It’s important that you know how your characters will interact with the world they live in.
Does the world you created have an impact on their actions and where they’re going? Does it hinder them in some way? Locations should have an impact on the action and how your character will reach their goals. Take some time to plan it out.
Names, ages, what they look like, etc. is usually information you should know before you begin.
I think you should know what your character looks like, so you can have a clear picture in your mind. Your readers won’t know who your character is unless you do. Obviously physical traits aren’t the most important thing about your story, but we all like to picture who we read about. Readers will come up with their own interpretations, but they need a starting point.
You don’t need to know everything about your characters before you begin because some things you’ll learn along the way. Not having everything planned out shouldn’t be an excuse not to start. Knowing your main characters, the plot, and who will stand in your protagonist’s way is a good starting point. If you get stuck, you can work on the other stuff after you’ve started.