character development questions

New Writing Resources Available on the Downloads Page

For everyone doing JulNoWriMo, if you’d like an easy way to track your word count, I’ve created a Progress Tracker chart (PDF download) that you can use to record your daily word count and total word count.

Progress Tracker for Writing a Novel in 30 Days

For readers of The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, I’ve created worksheets for all the brainstorming questions in PDF.  So if you’re reading the kindle version or listening to the audiobook (or even reading the paperback, but would rather write on a worksheet than in the book)–you can download everything through these links:

Pre-writing Worksheets and Resources (zipped file)

30 Days of Worksheets and Productivity Questions (zipped file)

The pre-writing worksheets contain all the brainstorming questions to help you figure out your plot, setting, and characters.

The resource PDF lists all the writing books and other resources I recommended in the book, in one handy shopping list file.

The 30 days of worksheets are the daily writing prompts that guide you through the story blueprint, to prod your muse into revealing possible directions your story could take next.

If you follow the story prompts, you’ll write a story that fits into three-act structure, follows the hero’s journey, and contains a character growth arc for your protagonist.

The actual blueprint is contained in the book, so if you haven’t read it, you can still use the daily prompts, although it might not be entirely clear why the questions fall in the order that they do. But they will still work.

The productivity questions are intended to be answered each day after your writing session, to give you greater insight into your creative process and help you eliminate the blocks that are slowing you down or stopping you from writing altogether.

Even if you haven’t read the book, you may still find the worksheets useful, and did I mention, it costs you nothing to try them because they’re free?  🙂

(If you want to read The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, you can get it in Paperback, Kindle, or Audiobook.)

Happy writing!


Why Your Character Needs a Secret Identity

Secret identities—they’re not just for superheroes anymore.

The secret identities we’re familiar with from comic books represent extreme contrasts of personality. Wonder Woman conceals her wild Amazon powers in the buttoned-up persona of Diana Prince. Batman shrouds his vigilante anger in the glib playboy personality of Bruce Wayne. Superman hides his alien invincibility behind the role of mild-mannered, bespectacled Clark Kent.

(Although I never quite bought that last one…a pair of heavy-framed glasses do not a clever disguise make.)

Giving your hero or heroine a secret identity is a great way to add complexity and depth. But to make it believable, you’ll want to go with something a little bit subtler than you’d find in a comic book.

Let’s say your heroine, Alexis, is a lawyer who’s burning the candle at both ends to make partner…but she volunteers to teach disadvantaged children how to read on the weekends. To her coworkers, she’s the hotshot prosecutor who never loses a case. Her colleagues would be shocked to learn that, each Saturday morning, Alexis becomes the nice lady who helps Tommy sound out all the words in Where the Wild Things Are.

The key is to choose a secret identity that contrasts with the character’s primary role—something that demonstrates a contradiction in her personality. What’s the primary quality Alexis is displaying in her public identity? Ruthlessness. So we want to reveal the opposite quality in her secret identity: compassion.

Once you know the character’s secret identity, you need to find a way to reconcile it with her public identity. How can she be both ruthless and compassionate?

Maybe Alexis struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, and was humiliated by a bad teacher for her poor reading skills.

Or maybe she was seen as a problem child by the principal, because her illiterate mother wasn’t able to write her an excuse note when she was sick or sign off on her progress reports.

You can probably think of a dozen other reasons a lawyer might volunteer to teach reading to children.

If we’re talking about a minor character, just giving them an interesting secret identity and reconciling it with their public identity is enough.

But for your main characters, you’ll want to go a step further: tie the secret identity to the character’s flaw or wound via a defining traumatic event.

What’s Alexis’ flaw? It has to be something that fits with both her public identity and her secret identity.

Let’s say you decided Alexis was dyslexic. What if she flunked fifth grade, and had to repeat it while all of her friends advanced to junior high? What if all of those so-called friends snubbed her while she repeated fifth grade and bullied her when she followed them to junior high a year later? What if all the rumors those bullies spread caused the boy of her dreams to publicly reject Alexis when she asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance?

You can see how Alexis might fall prey to the belief that she’ll never be good enough. And how she might swear that she will do whatever it takes to become good enough.

The negative belief is her flaw, and the vow she takes is how she compensates for that flaw. The reason she’s so aggressive in the courtroom and so competitive with her colleagues is because she’s desperately trying to prove to everyone (and herself) that she is good enough. She’s trying to prove that those ex-friends who bullied her were wrong.

At the same time that this flaw gives rise to her public identity, it also gives rise to her secret identity: Alexis knows how painful it is to be called “stupid” for not being able to read, and she can’t bear to stand by and watch it happen to others. The same experience that drives her to be ruthless at work also compels her to be compassionate to those she perceives as being like her.

To sum up, here’s a series of questions to help you create a great secret identity for any character:

1. What is this character’s public identity?

2.   What is the primary quality or trait that the character displays through their public identity?

3. What is the opposite quality or trait?

4. What kind of secret identity would exemplify that opposite quality or trait?

5. How can I reconcile the character’s public and secret identities?

6. How can I tie the character’s public and secret identities into his or her flaw via a defining traumatic event?