6 Ways to Truly Get to Know Your Characters @thenovelsmithy

6 Ways to Truly Get to Know Your Characters @thenovelsmithy


get to know your characters

Thanks to Lewis Jorstad of the Novel Smithy for this guest post. Be sure to head over to his blog to read my post on 5 Line Editing Tips for Polishing Your Prose. 

When most writers sit down to outline their characters, their first order of business is creating a character profile. These profiles are a lot like dossiers from spy movies. Just like 007’s file might contain details about his appearance, skills, and relationships, so too will your character’s profile.

However, when writing a novel, appearances and relationships aren’t enough.

Unlike the baddies in spy movies, you aren’t just out to kill your characters—at least not right away! Instead, you’re trying to create a vibrant, realistic person for your readers to latch on to, meaning you need to delve deep into what makes them who they are. From their goals and desires, to their darkest fears, history, and inner struggle, these are the elements that will truly bring your characters to life.

With that in mind, let me walk you through six things you should know before writing your novel’s cast!

6 Things to Know for Every Character You Write

#1 – Their Role in Your Novel:

First things first—you need to know what role your character plays in your story.

Are they your protagonist, or are they a villain? Are they a mentor, shadow, shapeshifter, or herald? Regardless of what their role is, knowing it ahead of time will help you better understand who this character is in the context of your story.

This distinction is important. Knowing your character as a person is great, but you also need to understand how they’ll shape your novel itself. After all, your novel’s hero will be very different than a sidekick or minor antagonist—and thus will require a different level of detail.

Example: Luke Skywalker is the protagonist of Star Wars: A New Hope, while Ilsa Lund is an ally and shapeshifter in the movie Casablanca.

#2 – Their Story Goal:

Next, your character’s story goal is the personal goal or motivation that defines their adventure. This is what will push them to get involved in your plot, and it’ll stick with them for the majority of your novel, shaping every decision they make along the way.

Because of this, story goals are a critical piece of the character development puzzle. Conflicting story goals often cause characters to fight, get into trouble, and generally spark the kinds of interesting, complex situations that make for a good story!

Luckily, finding your character’s story goal is fairly simple.

Ask yourself—what do they want to achieve throughout your novel? Why do they get involved with your plot in the first place? What motivates them to take action? Once you answer these questions, you should have a solid idea of what story goal your character is pursuing.

Example: Luke Skywalker’s story goal in Star Wars: A New Hope is to prove himself capable of becoming a Jedi, while Ilsa’s goal is to escape the Nazis with her husband.

#3 – Their Inner Struggle:

Of course, your characters can’t achieve their goals too easily. Alongside plot-related hurdles, they’ll also need to face a major internal challenge or obstacle in order to earn their success. This obstacle is their inner struggle. Also called their lie or wound, this is a harmful belief or inner conflict that holds your character back throughout their journey—meaning overcoming it is the real point of their quest.

Fortunately, much like the story goal, the easiest way to find a character’s inner struggle is by asking a few targeted questions. What does your character believe about themselves or their world? How does this prevent them from achieving their goals? What lesson will they need to learn throughout their journey? Are they successful?

Once you’re considered these questions, you should be able to sum up your character’s inner struggle in a sentence or two.

Example: Luke Skywalker’s inner struggle is the belief that he’s a simple farm boy who’s incapable of greatness. Meanwhile, Ilsa’s inner struggle is her belief that she can ignore her love for Rick.

#4 – Their Backstory:

Moving on, we come to backstory.

Backstory is a tricky subject, because it’s easy to fill whole books with nothing but your character’s history. After all, we all have a list of life experiences that shape who we are, and the same is true for our characters. Every character you write will have some kind of past, and that past will influence their actions.

The question is, do you really need to write pages and pages of backstory?

Well, the short answer is no. Believe it or not, you only need to know one or two key events to understand your characters’ histories. These events are the most impactful experiences of their lives and are often the source of their inner struggle. So, think about the major events that define your characters! While you’re welcome to explore more of their backstory if you choose, these should be more than enough to provide context for who your characters are.

Example: Luke Skywalker was left with his aunt and uncle as a baby, meaning he spent his whole childhood daydreaming about his father’s life as a Jedi. As a result, he desperately wants to live up to his father’s legacy. Likewise, Ilsa’s backstory centers on her time in Paris with Rick, and the difficult decision she made to abandon Rick and return to save her husband when the Nazis invaded.

#5 – Their Character Arc:

Character arcs are a big topic in the writing world, and for good reason. Not only do arcs shape our characters’ personal journeys, but they often determine the kind of story we end up telling, too.

If you aren’t familiar with what a “character arc” is, this is the inner journey your character goes on throughout your novel. This arc can take one of three shapes:

  • A Positive Arc: Here your character learns to overcome their inner struggle and grow as a person, thus triumphing over the main conflict of their story.
  • A Negative Arc: Here your character ends up overwhelmed by their inner struggles, ultimately becoming a worse version of themselves and failing in their quest.
  • A Flat Arc: Here your character isn’t concerned with their own growth, but with guiding and teaching their world. To succeed in their arc, they must heal the inner struggle of the people around them.

Regardless of which arc your character follows, this arc will determine the path they take throughout your story—as well as how the other elements we’ve discussed play out. Do they learn and grow, wither and decay, or teach and heal?

Of course, not every character warrants an arc. Character arcs require a lot of time to develop, meaning they’re usually reserved for major characters like your protagonist, key allies, and your antagonist. Whether other character in your story warrant an arc is ultimately up to you!

Example: Luke Skywalker follows a positive arc, as does Ilsa. Both manage to overcome their inner struggle and succeed during the finale of their stories.

#6 – Their Beginning and End:

Finally, we come to your character’s “plot arc.”

You see, even characters without a character arc will still begin and end your story in different places. For instance, someone who starts your story a coward might eventually gain the courage to chart their own path—or they may fade into obscurity, unable to stand up for themselves. Likewise, a character who begins your novel as the school bully might end it isolated from their peers.

Whatever this journey looks like, identifying both its beginning and end (before you begin writing) will help ensure your characters remain dynamic. Even if their plot arc is subtle, it’ll still lend a sense of impact to your novel. After all, seeing characters change on the page is the best way to show your reader just how much your plot matters!

Example: Luke begins his story unsatisfied with his life as a farm boy and ends it as a hero of the rebellion. Ilsa begins her story running from the Nazis and lying to herself about her loyalties. She ends it having accepted that she can love Rick, while still standing by her husband.


In the end, these six elements should go a long way in helping you better understand your cast, and eventually turn that cast into a vibrant part of your novel.

Best of all, this information doesn’t have to take weeks and months to create! Grab a sheet of paper, jot down your character’s name, and then write a single paragraph for each of the components we discussed. By the time you’re done, I’m confident you’ll see your character with a fresh set of eyes.

More About Lewis

know your charactersLewis Jorstad is an author and developmental editor who helps up-and-coming writers hone their writing their craft over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on the next book in his Writer’s Craft series, you can find him playing old Gameboy games and sailing somewhere around the eastern half of the US. You can also check out his free ebook, The Character Creation Workbook, and grab a copy for yourself.

Follow  Lewis on:





5 Recommended Resources For Writers During The Pandemic

5 Recommended Resources For Writers During The Pandemic

Below, I’ve listed some resources for writers and readers that I’ve had the time to explore or rediscover during this pandemic. I’m fortunate as my whole family has been able to stay home and social distance. My husband is a high school teacher, so he set up a second desk in my office. The kids are doing remote school work on their Chromebooks. We all have our own separate projects, but have created new family routines also such as playing board games every evening after dinner, baking, and participating in a virtual trivia night hosted Fridays at 6:30 p.m. EST by An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe on their Facebook page while the store is closed.

I’m not writing a book at the moment, though I expect that to change by summer as I’ve been jotting down ideas. For now, I’ve  focused on creating content to post on my three blogs and YouTube channel, marketing my fiction books and Book Editing Blueprint course for writers, guesting on numerous podcasts, developing a new online course, working with editing clients, and catching up on tasks that have sat on my to-do list for way too long.

The below resources for writers have helped to keep me productive and distracted during this difficult time. I hope you find them helpful. Please feel free to share in the comments what you’ve been doing during this pandemic and any resources for writers that you’ve found useful.

Check out these 5 amazing resources for writers! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity Click To Tweet

resources for writers


StoryOrigin is a cross-promotional marketing tool designed to help authors work together to build their email lists, increase sales/page reads, and get more reviews. I’ve been meaning to explore this wonderful resource for months, and I’m impressed! Those who follow me know that my motto is: Let’s make editing simple. Well, StoryOrigin’s slogan could be: Let’s make book promotion simple. Created by Evan Gow, this community is currently free.

You can connect with other authors to swap mentions in one another’s upcoming newsletters, team up with multiple authors to promote your books on a single landing page, collect requests to join your review team and automate review tracking for those you’ve given access, and collect subscribers for your mailing list and automate delivery of a free book or sample. The site has great features including a universal book link that sends readers to your book’s purchasing page at their preferred, country-specific store, automated distribution and review tracking for Audible and Findaway promo codes, and easy downloads for newsletter exclusives, welcome gifts, or ARCs.

So far, I’ve joined several group sale events and done newsletter swaps. A couple years ago, I did newsletter swaps all the time, but got burned out. I arranged them via Facebook and email, and it was a hassle exchanging information and keeping track of all the dates and contact information. Worse, many authors never followed through and didn’t share my book.

With StoryOrigin, you can see on your dashboard exactly what you’ve committed to and gather all the details you need, and you know what date your book mention is slated to appear in someone’s newsletter. Many authors share a link to the published newsletter, so you can see the click rate and find out who is reliable. It’s a user-friendly site, well-organized, and amazingly, it’s free right now!


Making trailers for my books has been on my to-do list for YEARS! Now that I have more time on my hands, I’ve finally sat down to create some videos to promote my books. I used Lumen5, a video creation platform that enables anyone without training or experience to easily create engaging video content within minutes. I use the free plan, which gives you five videos per month with a Lumen5 watermark.

The site is amazing as it offers millions of copyright-free stock images and video clips, not to mention an extensive copyright-free music library. I use some of their images, and some that I’ve gathered from other sites. You have full commercial rights to all the videos you create using Lumen5. You can post your videos to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or wherever you’d like. I first learned about this site about a year ago, and although I didn’t do much with it initially, it floored me that Lumen5 offered so much for free.

I even sent an email along the lines of, “Really? Am I understanding this correctly? I can use the music, clips, and images, post the video on YouTube, and don’t have to worry about copyright?” Someone cheerfully responded that yes, I was understanding it correctly. I don’t mind having a watermark at the end of my videos as they deserve the credit! With some of the paid plans, you can have access to even more stock photos and videos, but the free plan has met my needs.

I’ve been adding trailers to my Book Trailer playlist on YouTube. Below, is the trailer for my sweet and sassy chick lit novel, Fooling Around With Cinderella (Storybook Valley #1) so you can see a sample.

If you make a trailer using Lumen5, be sure to tag me on social media!

Publisher Rocket

Publisher Rocket
Publisher Rocket is a simple tool that shows you exactly what Amazon book buyers type into Amazon, as well as how many people search for these things every month. Using Rocket’s Keywords Feature, you will learn: what keywords shoppers type into Amazon; estimated number of times someone types that keyword into Amazon; how much money other books that rank for that keyword are making; and how many books are competing for that keyword.

With the Category Feature, you can quickly find pertinent and niche categories for your books, as well as find out how many books you’d need to sell that day in order to be the new #1 bestseller. You can see your potential competitors, their information, reviews, book cover, and even their daily and monthly earnings. Rocket will also help you find profitable keywords for Amazon’s AMS ads.

This software wasn’t new to me, however, I hadn’t used it in at least a year. Since then, it has undergone updates and gained even more features from when I purchased it. I’ve been using it to freshen up my books’ keywords and categories, as well as to create AMS ads. I also recently became an affiliate of the program, so if you purchase it, I’d appreciate it if you used my affiliate link to help support my blog and YouTube Channel: https://stacyjuba–rocket.thrivecart.com/publisher-rocket/

Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur is the creator of the software and has many free tools on his website including:

Rocket Tutorials

AMS Ad Class

Book Description Generator (This helps you to add bold and italics to your Amazon book description as well as control the font size.)

How to Choose Keywords

How to Choose Categories

Libby App

All authors should make sure they take time to read. First, it’s relaxing downtime. Second, it will help you to become a better writer. Although I buy lots of books, I also enjoy browsing the shelves at my local library and borrowing titles that catch my eye. Well, until the pandemic.

I recently discovered Libby, a free app where you can borrow e-books and digital audiobooks from your public library. (Libby works with public libraries that use OverDrive.) You can stream books with Wi-Fi or mobile data, or download them for offline use and read anytime, anywhere. All you need to get started is a library card. The Libby app is free to install from your device’s app store, and all the digital content from your library is free to borrow with a valid library card.

I hadn’t borrowed e-books from the library for a couple years as the previous app I used was a bit clunky. I was impressed with how easy Libby is to navigate and amazed at all the books at my fingertips. Some have been available to borrow and download immediately, and for others, I needed to get on a wait list. It’s always a nice surprise to get a notification on my phone that another book is ready to borrow.

So far, I’ve borrowed: When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger, The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, You Are A Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero, The Husband’s Secret and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth, and Picture Perfect, Leaving Time, and Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult. Yes, I’ve been escaping with a lot of books, lately!

You can download Libby on:


Writing In Tough Times

I stumbled across the book, How to WRITE When Everything Goes WRONG: A Practical Guide to Writing Through Tough Times by Allie Pleiter, and thought this was an important book to share during these stressful times. I’m a fan of Allie’s book for writers, The Chunky Method Handbook: Your Step-By-Step Plan to WRITE That Book Even When Life Gets in the Way, and didn’t know about How to WRITE When Everything Goes WRONG until recently. 

Is your muse yelling “SOS”? How do you keep the words pouring onto the page when your real life feels like it’s under attack? Every writer knows how stress and personal crises can strangle your creativity. Help is on the way in this brilliantly practical guide. Inside, you’ll find advice that:
– Gets you through the thick of your crisis
– Gives you tactics that will energize you to keep writing
– Teaches you to use your stress to inspire your writing

As the author of over 30 books and the creator of The Chunky Method of time management for writers, Allie Pleiter has met deadlines in the midst of some imposing traumas. With candor, insight, and the wisdom of experience, she shares practical and inventive strategies for how to stay afloat and creative amid life’s stormiest seas.

You can purchase How to WRITE When Everything Goes WRONG on Amazon.

Bonus Resource

how to write a successful book online writing class

Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable – This is my self-paced online course for fiction and creative nonfiction writers, and is the resource I wish I’d had available early in my writing career. Most novels need several rounds of editing before they’re ready to submit to agents or to indie publish. Unfortunately, each round with a freelance book editor can cost you hundreds of dollars.

By going through this course, you’ll get the tools to skyrocket your manuscript to the next level without breaking the bank. This course demystifies the editing process, giving beginner and intermediate writers a practical, step-by-step blueprint for evaluating, rewriting, and polishing their manuscript. It’s like having a professional editor standing over your shoulder as you’re editing the novel. The course will give you a solid foundation while also being something you can reasonably finish. It includes  examples, practice quizzes, and bite-sized action steps that nudge you closer toward your goal.

By the end of this course, you’ll have prepared a detailed editorial report outlining your book’s strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to fix the problems, and will be armed with a simple self-editing checklist to guide you through your revisions. It’s a proven system that outlines what every fiction and creative nonfiction author should do before approaching an editor. That way when you’re ready to hire a editor, you’ll get much more value for your money and should receive a high level edit rather than one filled with general beginner advice.


Get a quick overview here:

Want more information? Watch the 8-minute classroom tour on YouTube.

Purchase Book Editing Blueprint here. Since the course launched at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to extend the $139 sale price and limited time bonuses through May.


If you're an author, be sure to check out the resources for writers described above:


Publisher Rocket

Lumen 5

Libby App (if your library uses Overdrive)

How to WRITE When Everything Goes WRONG: A Practical Guide to Writing Through Tough Times by Allie Pleiter

Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable

What resources for writers do you recommend? Share in the comments.

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