3 Tips For Mapping Out Your Characters

Character Mapping is a technique that I find extremely helpful in developing my characters as fully realized individuals. There are many different elements to character mapping, but, in my opinion, these are three of the most important:

 Mapping Your Characters R.S. Mollison-Read

#1. Backstory: This is one of the most essential aspects of character mapping. It is impossible to understand a character’s motivation, and why they act the way they do, without having a fully developed backstory. I like to create a character map for every single one of my characters, even the small, even those characters who are seemingly inconsequential. This may sound like a tedious process – but making a character map at the beginning of my writing process, helps me to write more fluidly later on. I try to include information, such as genealogy, life experiences, and personal tastes, from the moment of a character’s birth, right up until the moment I introduce that character into my story. I find that having a character’s life story available in front of me is synonymous with the relationship between siblings, or very close friends. Once you know everything (or nearly everything) about someone, you can predict the way they would act in any given situation. The same is true for a well developed character. 
 
#2. Influences: Examining what influences a character goes part and parcel with developing that character’s backstory. Specifically, I like to explore the causality of those influences in my character’s lives, after I’ve developed their backstory.
Example: 
If I decide that a character is going to be adventurous – and perhaps initiate a quest or mission, I need to go and see what in that character’s backstory would make that character so adventurous. Were they well-travelled as a child? Have they led a sheltered life, and yearn for an adventure?
Having a backstory is essential – but finding the causality between events in that backstory, and the decisions your characters might make based on those influences, is what really makes characters feel real!
 
#3.  Anecdotal Evidence: This is another aspect of character mapping that is closely related to backstory. It can greatly help to flesh out a character’s personality.
Example:
If I decide that my character hates peas, I can create an incident in their childhood, where that character became violently ill after consuming peas, and thus their hatred of peas begins.
While something as trivial as a hatred of peas may seem insignificant to storytelling, I find it extremely helpful in thinking of my characters as fully realized people. When I am actually writing the story, I don’t usually include anecdotal evidence, unless it is integral to the story. But it definitely helps me to write in a manner that is true to my characters. Anecdotal evidence is also extremely important when writing novels in series. By including anecdotal evidence in my character maps, I can easily refer back to that information on the 3rd, or 5th, (or 15th!) novel.

 

Do you use character mapping techniques? What works, or doesn’t work, for you?

 

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12 thoughts on “3 Tips For Mapping Out Your Characters

  1. When say character map, do you mean you do a mind map of each character or do you use some other technique? I always enjoy trying out new planning techniques because you never know what will be most helpful. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. Hi Virginia! Thanks for the question! My character maps are only somewhat like mind maps.When I first started writing, I would use mind maps, but I find that mind maps do not represent the chronology of a character's life well enough for my liking.I would say that my character maps are more like timelines (like the kind you might find in a history textbook). I like to keep the events of the character's life "in order", to better organize my thoughts.I also like to use images to assist me in developing a comprehensive image in my mind of a character's life.I hope that helps to clarify! Let me know if you have any more questions!

  3. Interesting post. I tend to keep mental notes when creating characters, I don't write them down per se, this is not working for me, but I do organize stuff in my mind. Then I let the characters live their lives and I work as their narrator. While I do know where they are going, I do let them surprise me from time to time..

  4. Hi Mary! Thanks for the comment! I find it so interesting to hear how different writers manage their character information. I too have tried to keep it in my mind, but I just feel more organized when I have it written down somewhere I can refer to later.

  5. I don't use anything like this, I just have the characters in my head. I sort of 'know' them, if you get what I mean, it's not a list of information. The only way in which I portray the character's personality traits are by dialogue and the actions they take, which is enough to let the reader know all about them – if it's not, I'm doing something wrong!I do have their timelines written down, though, so I keep the continuity right (ie, remembering that Dave met Ariel when he was 22, not 21!), but that's all

  6. Thanks for the comment Terry! That's interesting that you too keep character information in your head. Just thinking about that gives me a headache, especially since I have a good 20 novels rattling around up in my brain;) I think I find character mapping so useful because I do a lot of series writing, with 7 and 8 novels planned for a series. I have certain elements that I want to reveal at particular steps along the way, so that I don't have to furiously explain them away later!

  7. […] to name but a few. To that end, I find character maps, (which I discussed in greater detail here), to be very helpful. By fully understanding where a character comes from, and what factors […]

  8. […] A great way to do that, is to make comprehensive character maps, which I discussed in detail here. Naming: Ensuring that fictional elements in the story have great names, lends that element a lot […]

  9. […] discussed the importance of creating backstory for your characters in great depth before here. But its importance cannot be overstated. The interesting thing about writing fiction is that, […]

  10. […] choose to reveal that reaction to the reader at the time. I find this very helpful in forming my character maps, and it is particularly important if I need to reference that scene, (and the emotions felt in that […]

  11. […] discussed the importance of creating backstory for your characters in great depth before here. But its importance cannot be overstated. The interesting thing about writing fiction is that, […]

  12. […] A great way to do that, is to make comprehensive character maps, which I discussed in detail here. Naming: Ensuring that fictional elements in the story have great names, lends that element a lot […]