BE MY GUEST: How to develop an engaging main character: Nicky Wells

There are always some characters which stay in our mind for years after reading a book, what makes them so memorable? What makes them so engaging? Is it because they are well-rounded and relatable? Or do their flaws make them stand-out and get stuck in our heads? Is it because such characters can be visualized by the readers easily? 

Nicky Wells, author of “Sophie’s Turn”, answers these intriguing questions and ruminates on creating and developing a main character, also known as “protagonist” in technical terms.

How to develop an engaging main character 

By Author: Nicky Wells
When Komal contacted me and suggested I should write a guest blog on writing and developing a main character, my first reaction was one of despair. I’m not a ‘trained’ writer as such, have never been to any writing courses, and have never tried to teach anybody else to write. What I do, is write. So how could I possibly offer a guest blog on this subject?

Initial panic quelled and calm thoughts restored, I thought I’d do what I do best: write, and this time, write about what I did, and how I did it. This is not intended as the definite guide to creating a lead character; this is simply me sharing my experience.

So I decided to write my big novel, finally. First things first: I had a think about my characters. The female character was obviously the focus of attention; she would be the I-narrator, and she’d lend her name to the book. So I started with a name.

I picked ‘Sophie’ out of a long list of baby names on the internet for two reasons. Obviously the name appealed to me, but also at that time I didn’t know anybody personally by that name, so there could be no connection with a real person.

That accomplished, I sat down and created a character profile, which looked like this:

The character profile had to answer key question that I would know about my best friend—and I considered Sophie to be one of them! So I thought of all the important and not so important things that one typically knows about one’s best friends, including what they like to eat, their pet hates and their happy buttons. Once complete, that character profile lived on my wall where I could see it while writing. I let it percolate for a few days to make sure that I really ‘knew’ Sophie… and of course, I did the same for the other key characters. Over time, as I was writing, it evolved in places but largely, that profile was my framework of references in all things Sophie.

Right then, now that I had a ‘feel’ for who Sophie was, I needed to think about her motivations. What does she want from life? And is she getting where she wants to be? In Sophie’s case, the answer was quite simple. Actually, she’d love nothing more than settling with a gorgeous man somewhere in a nice house (doesn’t need to be big or pompous, just nice and comfy) with a couple of children and a lovely part-time job that she enjoys. At the start of the novel, she has a job that she adores, and a really close friend who acts as her extended family. She rents a flat that she likes but would be even happier if she could buy it. And she has Tim, her boyfriend of two years, who she is reasonably happy with… BUT.

This was Sophie’s starting point. Things are good, BUT. And this ‘but’ sets the story off for Sophie as there is something missing in her life. This is where character development began. Initially Sophie thinks she is discontent because Tim isn’t proposing. As far as she can see, all the other pieces necessary for happiness in her life are more or less in place.

But actually, by and by she realises that there is more amiss with her life than she thought. Specifically, she is missing some kind of excitement, some glitz and glamour. And at this moment Tusk and Dan come back into her life. While the flashbacks ought to have served as a hint to Sophie, it is bumping into Darren (the guitarist) at the airport that really opens her eyes to her own motivations. In this way, I moved Sophie from the ‘mostly happy’ into the ‘confused and uncertain’ state of mind.

Things get even worse when Dan starts wooing Sophie in the most romantic way imaginable. Here she is, straight as an arrow, never lied to anyone, only looking for fairly simple ingredients to her happiness… and Dan throws a massive spanner in the works. What’s a girl to do?

You may have noticed that planning the development in Sophie’s motivation (and events in her life, obviously) is closely linked to the development of the plot as a whole. So after the character profile and basic thoughts on her motivation, the next step wasn’t actually outlining her evolution, as I just did above. The actual next step was to plan the plot in meticulous detail, and then dovetail her emotions, motivations and actions with the storyline. It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg question, and I tend to do a little bit of this followed by a little bit of that… a kind of incremental, interlinked character and plot development.

And this, in a nutshell, is my approach to creating and developing a lead character. If you’re starting to write a novel right now, I’d say the absolutely most important thing is to make sure to get into your character’s head. You have to know him or her as though he/she was a real person. And yes, that may involve holding the occasional conversation with them, arguing and debating with them and, sometimes, telling them off. If you know your character intimately, you’ll find it relatively easy to grow and evolve them.

A Big Thanks to Komal for hosting a guest-blog stop on my “Virtual Book Tour” for “Sophie’s Turn”.

About the Author:

Nicky Wells is a writer and former business practices researcher. Born and raised in Germany, she moved to the United Kingdom in 1993. Having received degrees from the University of London and from the University of Oxford, she has spent six years working as a researcher and project manager for an international Human Resources research firm based in London and Washington, DC. She has just published her novel, “Sophie’s Turn” which is a contemporary romance tale. To know more about her and her writing, visit her website: http://nickywellsklippert.wordpress.com

About her Book:

Slapper. Slut. Adulteress. These are hardly words that Sophie Penhalligan would normally use to describe herself. And yet this is exactly how she is behaving, all things considered, even if she isn’t quite married to Tim yet. Aged nineteen, she travelled halfway across the country to honour an invitation by her favourite rock band, Tusk, to join them for the last gig of their tour. And now her past is coming to tempt her... How could Tim ever stand a chance against Dan, the charming, handsome lead-singer? How could she?

Sophie, now twenty-eight and a budding newspaper journalist, is happily embroiled in a relationship with Tim, her boyfriend of two years. Until recently, she was confident that Tim would eventually propose—probably as soon as he could get his act together. But just as Tim’s persistent inaction is beginning to cast a cloud over their relationship, Dan’s sudden reappearance turns Sophie’s world upside down. Thus unfolds a roller-coaster of events including an ill-fated trip to Paris with Tim, a night of unfulfilled romance with Dan, Sophie and Tim’s engagement party gate-crashed by Dan, and Sophie’s professional secondment to accompany Dan’s band on their revival tour—at Dan’s special request and very much against her will.

And then, one fine day in Paris, Sophie suddenly finds herself engaged to Dan while her erstwhile fiancĂ© Tim is... well, doing whatever it is Tim does back in London. What is she to do now? Who wouldn’t give anything to meet their favourite star, let alone marry him?

Find out how Sophie gets into this impossible situation, and how she turns it around, in Sophie’s Turn, a modern romantic fairy tale. – (Courtesy: Amazon.co.uk)

To buy this book on Amazon (UK), click here.

To purchase from Amazon (US), click here.


  1. What a wonderful way to develop a character! I LOVE this :)

  2. Clever! I love how the character profile is like a resume. All neat and organized. I'm going to have to steal that! :)

  3. This is an amazing feature. Very interesting Nicky. Fab guest blog lovely x x

  4. Love the tips and way you thought through your character. For the first time in the history of my writing, I'm really struggling with developing this one character. Idk why, but she is just giving me her information. So this character profile is just what I needed. Thanks for that fabulous post! :)

  5. Hi,

    I came across your blog on Book Blogs and really love it!

    I am now following you and would love if you could come and check out my newish blog too?


    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair


  6. Nicky, I love the profile you've created for your character. Although I write travel narrative non-fiction, my main genre, and my characters are real, I'm also working on my first novel (top secret lol). I find the information in your post really useful and fun to work with. Thank you! (I look forward to creating a similar profile for my main character.:) ) Happy writing!

  7. @Elisa, Eryn, Shazjera, Larissa and Barbara: Thanks so much for finding this artcile by Nicky helpful and useful. I am so glad she offered such great tips on character development. I too love the profile she created...so organized!:)

    @Megan: Thanks for following my blog. I love your blog too and following it now!:)

  8. Hello all! Thank you for taking the time to read my ruminations on character development, and for your wonderful feedback. I am overwhelmed by your enthusiastic response, I feel like I've struck a nerve somewhere... Wow. Please, by all means, steal away. If this inspires someone, then... well, then that makes me incredibly happy. I've seen quite a few more elaborate approaches to character development recently, and ultimately y'all need to use what works best for you. But I do find that the summary sheet (the almost-resume) really does help me a lot, particularly with simple things... and as I'm moving into the sequel. What colour eyes did Sophie have again? Did she like or loathe pizza? It's amazing what you can forget at 140,000 odd words later... Anywway, there I go again, rambling away.
    Thank you all for your interest and time, and come and visit me on my blog some time soon.

  9. This book sounds really interesting. I like how the author created the main character profile. I made one for my book (about each main character)- but it wasn't as well put together as this list! I love this idea. :)



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