You’ve got an idea for a Light Novel (LN) and want to start writing. Maybe you’ve managed to crank out some of your story’s outline or have done some worldbuilding, but your stuck on one key element of storytelling—
Extremely rare is the story without any characters. And I highly doubt there’s a single LN in existence without at least a few.
So, you have to have characters, but not just any will do.
Unlike other forms of fictions, LN Authors go out of their way to create unique, loveable characters as they’ll be taking center stage during their stories.
Because LNs are such a uniquely marketed medium, the Authors have to take extra care when creating characters for their story.
They are the literal face of your LN given their presence on the front cover. And beyond that, you’ll find your favorite characters on marketing materials (billboards / posters) and all manner of merchandise (t-shirts / key-chains).
Your characters are the most important aspect of your LN.
Thus, it’s important to spend extra time getting them just right before you write them into your LN.
However, there’s no need to spend weeks on end detailing their lives from beginning to where we meet them in your story.
The more time you spend prewriting, the less time you spend actual writing.
And before you say I’m contradicting myself, you should know that the majority of character creation (development) you do will be during the writing process, not during prewriting.
Call it magic, but somehow, your characters will develop themselves all on their own as you write them into your LN.
While you should make a point to develop them as much as possible up front, don’t worry if you feel they’re too underdeveloped to use in your story.
I only had a single, skimpy character sheet for each of my characters in both my LN series when I started writing. And somehow, they all turned out just fine. In fact, my character sheets only ballooned after I actually sat down and put them into the story.
Anyway, we’ll be taking a look into how to do the bare minimum you need to create loveable characters for your LN so you can start writing!
Just Who Is Your Character?
Before diving into the details, it’s good practice to write down whatever’s floating in your head regarding your character.
I call this the ‘concept’ phase. Nothing has to be set in stone, just take any idea you have and put it to word document.
Potential names, hair color, background, relationships, clothes, what weapon or ability they use, anything and everything.
This might seem like a waste of keystrokes, but it’s important to make your character ‘real’. Once they’re out of your head, they’re no longer just an idea that you perhaps maybe might make use of one day, but an actual character taking up space on your hard drive.
Got it all down? Good. We’re going to salvage what we can from that word vomit and turn it into one of your LN’s lovable characters in the next section.
The Tried-and-True Character Sheet
The easiest and most effective way to get your characters primed for the writing process is to use a character sheet (CS).
What is that?
Not exactly what it sounds like, but in the original meaning, it is your character written on a sheet of paper. It contains every imaginable detail about their life, personality, and appearance.
Some CSs are barebones, while others have over 200 blanks to fill including—With which finger do they pick their nose?
I…wouldn’t go that far. At least not at first. That information might be necessary in volume 12, but it’s not worth spending time on before you’ve even written volume 1.
You can find CSs just about anywhere online or make one yourself by cobbling a bunch together like I did. Which you’ll find below (and available for download at the end of the article!).
Here’s the information I put into my character sheets for my characters:
That is the bare minimum of information you need to start writing a character into your LN. All of which I’ll be breaking down each in a moment.
First, know that during this prewriting phase, I want you to focus only on your major characters. Unless a character is going to be around for your entire LN or is integral to your story, don’t spend too much time prewriting them beyond a couple sentences.
You don’t even have to detail their appearance or even give them a name during the writing process. Just slap a big X where that information will go and come back to it during the editing process.
All that said, I encourage you to eventually fill out in-depth character sheets for all of your characters. The more details, the more easily you’ll be able to develop them in your LNs. And well-developed characters are lovable ones.
For now, the goal is to have the necessary character data to be confident enough to start writing your LN.
Ok, let’s make your first loveable character of many!
1. How to Name Your Light Novel Character
Note: This might seem like something you decide on last, and it can be, but I’m honestly just following my CS rather than any logical order. Feel free to skip to other sections is you get stuck on one.
Deciding on a name for your character early on is important for two reasons:
- It makes them genuinely feel like a character and thus it’s easier to write them into your story.
- You forge a personal connection with their name and personality, which also makes it easier to write them.
There are an infinite number of ways that might lead you to pick one name or another. And quite frankly, there is no ‘correct’ answer. Whatever works for you is best. But if you want some tips on how to pick a great name, check out this article.
Anyway, here are two methodologies I suggest you stick with to make the overall naming process much easier.
One is very easy and will have you on your way to the next section. The other is well, not so easy, but far more helpful in the long run.
The Easy Way to Pick a Name
In short, this method involves leaving your character’s name up to random chance.
One of my favorite tools is what is called a ‘name generator’. And as you might suspect, it’s a simple program that generates names. You can find them with a simple internet search by typing in:
(Whatever genre you’re writing) Name Generator
- Anime character name generator
- Japanese name generator
- Manga character name generator
The amount of these available for FREE is astounding. Anytime I get stuck or just need a quick placeholder name for a town or minor character, I go straight to a name generator.
Once you’ve found one that fits your needs, just keep hitting refresh until you find a name you like.
Yep. That’s it. Easy, right? Maybe for some, but I have to hit refresh about 5000 times before making a decision and even then I usually toss it and make up my own name later.
The drawbacks to this method are three:
- You don’t forge a personal connection to the name because you’ll always be haunted by the knowledge you didn’t make it up yourself.
- Name generators are not all-powerful. They can only give you names the programmer put into the generator. Eventually, it will run out of names. And you definitely aren’t getting as many suggestions as you might benefit from.
- The name is ultimately hollow. It wasn’t chosen based on your character’s unique traits, but by random chance.
I don’t encourage this method for major and secondary characters, but minor characters are fair game. A name need only be as important as who or what it’s being attached to.
If a character is only going to show up once or twice for half a second, why agonize over their name? Hey, make it even easier and don’t give them a name at all but a title instead (Innkeeper, Librarian).
Use the easy method with caution, or use the following instead.
The Not -So-Easy Way to Pick a Name
This involves stopping where you are and reading every other section before proceeding.
This method necessitates you write everything else about your character and then base their name off who they are.
Your character is a unique individual whose name should reflect that. Their personality, past, and appearance should all be taken into account before giving them a name. The benefits of doing so are the opposite of the first method’s drawbacks:
- You forge a personal connection with that name because you know why they have that specific name.
- You have an infinite number of names to choose from.
- The name will be packed with meaning. Not only did you choose it yourself, you put a lot work into choosing it.
However, this process involves a lot of agony trying to get your character’s name ‘just right’. But when you do, it will make your ability to write that character so much easier.
Now the actual choosing of a name once you’ve designed your character is a bit tricky as everyone’s naming process will be different.
I can’t give you explicit 100% success rate instructions, but will share my own method:
- Design my character by filling out the rest of their character sheet.
- Look up Japanese words related to my character’s ability or personality (if giving them a Japanese name).
- Visit Anime Characters Database, sort by names alphabetically, and dig through those containing the syllables or Kanji I looked up earlier until I find one that clicks.
That’s it. Seriously. Ridiculous—perhaps, but that’s what works for me.
I don’t have an extensive knowledge of ‘real’ Japanese names. So, it’s safer to use ones I’ve seen elsewhere lest I give a character a ‘stupid’ name that no Japanese person would ever have. I’d rather my characters be called generic than weird.
And as simple as that seems, each character takes me at least two hours before I finally make a decision.
Call me a procrastinator, but I want their name to be perfect. They’re going to be stuck with it for my entire series after all.
You can always change a character’s name later, but for the sake of that strong personal connection, you should dedicate at least that much effort to giving them one that they’d be proud of.
2. Consider Your Character’s Role in Your Light Novel
To be in your LN, your character needs to have a reason to take part in it’s story. A character without a purpose, a role, has no business being in your LN.
And if you decide to force him in anyway just because there’s a bunch of cool stuff on his character sheet, it won’t end well. At best, he’ll be accused of being underdeveloped. At worst, readers will skip every scene he’s in if they read your LN at all.
So, you need to give each character a role. One that answers the following questions:
- What is her purpose in the story?
- How does she contribute to progressing the story?
- Is she the protagonist or a major/secondary/minor character?
- If she isn’t the protagonist, how does she relate to the protagonist?
- Why should the protagonist be involved her?
Ascribing your character a role isn’t as difficult as it might seem thus far. Think of it as a job title.
In a restaurant, each employee is given a role. And each of those roles contribute to the restaurant’s ability to operate as a whole. Like so:
- The hostess brings in the customers.
- The server takes their order.
- The chef prepares it.
- The busboy cleans the table when they leave.
- The manager makes sure everything goes according to plan.
Each fulfills an integral role to the entire process. Should one leave, the others would be forced to do extra work they may not be suited for, which threatens to break down the entire operation.
What I’m getting at is: each of your characters need to fit into your story as a whole. Whatever role you give him needs to be important enough so that if it was left unfulfilled, your story would suffer.
If the role you give him doesn’t make an impact, then he doesn’t need to be in your LN. Rare is the restaurant that pays someone to stand in the corner and do nothing.
Anyway, despite my insistence on the importance of a role, you don’t have to write more than a couple sentences on your character sheet. For example:
- Sosuke: Protagonist. Aims to open the most profitable cosplay café in all of Japan.
- Miko: A major character. She assists the protagonist in his quest to open a cosplay café.
- Haru: A secondary character. A loan shark who lends the protagonist some business capital.
And that’s all that need be said. You’ll be covering exactly what this role entails in the other sections. For now, you just need to figure out why they’re in your LN at all.
Feel free to expand on your character’s role or just wait until they show up during the writing process. Again, you’ll learn more about them there than in prewriting.
3. Give Your Character a Special Ability
The LN genre is packed with characters who exhibit some special ability or superpower.
Maybe your story follows students attending a school for wizards in which everyone specializes in a specific type of magic. Or, perhaps it features just a handful of psychics. Either way, it’s important to decide who has what ability during prewriting.
If your LN doesn’t have superpowered characters, feel free to skip this section or maybe replace ‘ability’ with talent. Being skilled in Karate may not be a superpower, but it is something special and worth noting.
In any case, actually choosing an ability is another article, but if you have one picked out already, it’s as simple as filling in the blank on your CS.
Let’s take the school for wizards for example. You might separate each character by the variety of magic they specialize in. Ex. Fire, Ice, or Gravity magic.
In the case of psychics, it will make the writing process much easier if you’re specific about which ability they exhibit. Ex. Telekinesis, Precognition, or Pyrokinesis.
Either way, make at least some effort to detail their ability, like so:
- Sakuya’s Ability: Specializes in Fire Magic. Not very skilled. Only able to cast simple spells using mana crystals as catalysts. Special technique is Fire Grenade where she lobs a condensed ball of flame that explodes on impact.
- Yumemi’s Ability: Aura Reading. Perceives a person’s mood through colored auras only she can see surrounding them. Uses the information to manipulate them.
And even that’s too much detail for prewriting. Your characters will show you what they’re really capable of during your LN. You could expound on it even further, or keep it simple. Just don’t spend too much time on it if it keeps you from actually writing.
Noting a character’s ability during prewriting is important as it allows you to write scenes involving them much easier as you know what they’re capable of.
4. Decide What Your Character Will Look Like
A loveable character has a memorable appearance, so this is something to agonize over, right?
Sort-of. Detailing your character’s appearance is simultaneously as important as you think and largely pointless.
Deciding on her appearance is useful for the same reasons as picking her name. Knowing what your character looks like is instrumental in forging that connection with her.
However, unlike her name, you can alter her appearance at any point during the writing process with little consequence. If the changes aren’t too drastic, that is.
Besides, you’re an Author. No matter what appearance, outfit, or hair style you decide, I promise your Illustrator will veto your choices.
They, being Illustrators, know far more about loveable character design than you do. You’re better off leaving it up to him for the most part. Give him a general idea and he’ll be happy to point you in a most likely better direction.
That’s what I did with both my series and I’m very satisfied with how all my characters turned out. The less input I have, the better they tend to come out…
All that said, you’re not anywhere near needing an illustrator yet, so let’s get back to designing your character.
First and foremost, your character’s appearance should reflect their personality. Which, you don’t know yet if you’re following my guide to the letter. So, feel free to come back after you’ve penned your character’s personality.
But let’s say you already know she’s a hot-blooded Tsundere or stoic Bungaku Shojo. In such cases, she might have these characteristics:
- Tsunderes have blond twintails or fiery red hair.
- Passionate, hot-blooded characters have orange or red hair.
- Stoic, mysterious types have silver hair.
- Characters suffering from unrequited love have blue hair.
You get the idea. It’s not just hair color suggesting personality though:
- Muscular guys / Tall, busty girls ooze with confidence.
- Wimpy guys / Short, flat girls have inferiority complexes.
- Glasses suggest high intellect.
- Perfectly manicured nails suggest meticulousness or an inflated ego.
- A long-haired man might possess more feminine qualities.
- A short-haired woman might possess more masculine qualities.
Using a character’s personality as a guideline will make the design process much easier. However, as noted earlier, I put appearance before personality on my character sheet.
I prefer first to come up with a vague design for my character and loosely base their personality off of it. Then, after detailing their personality, I come back to the appearance and adjust it to better fit their personality.
The order is up to you. However, try to avoid spending too much time on your character’s appearance beyond these four categories.
- Hair: The color, length, and style.
- Eyes: Color, shape, their default position (wide-open / half-closed)
- Body: Height, Weight, Build, Breast Size (if Female), Skin Tone, Age Range (Kid, Teen, Adult)
- Clothes: Anything they’ll be wearing in your story. Usually a uniform and one set of casual clothes.
These particular categories are lifted from Visual Novel Database: A wonderful website for us Authors as it’s packed with a million examples to base your character designs off of. I’d provide a link, but the site does contain NSFW elements, you’ve been warned.
So, I’ll save you a trip by sharing my own example:
- Hair: Chestnut Brown, Shoulder Length, Bob-Cut, Blunt Bangs
- Eyes: Icy Blue, Half-Closed (Always Sleepy)
- Body: Average Height, Near-Anorexic, A-Cup, Pale Skin, Teenaged
- Clothes: School Uniform + Giant Overcoat, Casual Clothes all designed to keep out the cold
That not seem like enough? Well, it is for prewriting. You can and should describe them in far more vivid detail in your LN.
Again, your character’s appearance definitely matters, but I had no idea what they truly looked like until my Illustrator was done with them. So, do as much as you can, but don’t get too caught up trying to get it perfect.
5. Give Your Character a Personality
Your character’s personality is their default mode of operation. How they act, the way they speak, how other people would describe them, and so on.
Just like a real person, when first meeting her, it should be apparent what kind of person she is. We won’t know everything about her, so she may come off as generic at first, but the more time we spend with her, the more her true personality will be revealed.
And that is the mentality to have when giving your character a personality. It’s not something you should try to know too much about upfront. You will get to know her much better during the writing process.
Thus, it’s initially better to just rely on tropes.
“No!” You shout, pointing an accusing finger at me. “No one likes a trope-ridden character, why would I do such a thing?”
Good question, one answered over here.
But in short: it’s OK to use tropes during prewriting. Your characters will naturally break out of them when you write them in your LN. Again, someone is only boring when you first get to know them.
However, breaking out of said tropes is a conscious action. Critics only accuse Authors of using tropes when they overuse or use them poorly (i.e. don’t add to or alter the basic trope).
You don’t have to include much on your character sheet beyond a couple buzzwords. Feel free to explain each one, but don’t go too far. Here’s a couple examples:
- Shiori: Stoic, Humble, Sickly, Doesn’t like to get close to others
- Hayate: Proactive, Extroverted, Loves to laugh
Generic, I know. But that’s the idea. The more prewriting you do, the harder it is to let go of all that hard work later even if you really should.
Let’s say you need your character to act a certain way during the writing process. However, the personality you gave them in your CS doesn’t reflect that action. If you feel like you must adhere to it, you’ll have written yourself into a corner.
So, avoid the problem entirely and don’t be afraid to give them a trope-ridden character sheet. The problem will resolve itself later, I promise (well, probably, that’s on you, I’m afraid…).
6. Define Your Character’s Background
No, you don’t have to fill out a resume for them…
A character’s background contains the hard facts about her life before your LN’s story, during it, and why they’re taking part in it. Let’s take a look at each:
A character’s history covers who they are and what they were doing before we meet them in your LN.
Unless you pen an amnesiac, each of your characters needs to have some sort of past that reflects their personality. Just like your past has influenced your personality, so too should it impact your characters.
Without a past, it’s difficult to justify why your character acts one way or another or why they make one decision or another. For example:
- An orphan has trouble empathizing with a character who lost her parents.
- A former assassin sleeps with a knife under his pillow and trusts no one.
- Someone who just left a long-term relationship is reluctant to start another so soon.
And so on and so forth. Whatever their history, make it match their personality and vice versa. This will ensure they are well-developed and therefore loveable.
But for the sake of your CS, keep it simple. You can write out their life story later once they’ve naturally developed while writing.
For now, only prewrite the details necessary to get them into your story. For example:
- Shiori’s History: Born with an incurable illness. Spends all her time in and out of hospitals. Has no close friends, only an older brother who works all the time to pay for her hospital visits.
That’s enough to get the ball rolling so you can then write their ‘current state’.
The circumstances of your character’s life when we meet them in your LN.
This should be based on her history and be relevant to your story. She needs to be doing something or in a position that leads to her involvement with the story.
Shiori’s Current State: Fed up with her dismal situation, she starts going to high school again after initially dropping out. However, she spends all her time alone in the library on account of having no idea how to make friends.
This is important as it establishes where your protagonist might run into that character and how he might interact with her.
A character’s history is useful later for character development, but her current state is more important during prewriting. It tells you how they’ll be introduced, suggests what their role might be as well, and their—
The ‘why’ of your character’s presence in the story. To be in your LN, your character needs some goal or motivation that gives them a reason to get involved in your story.
Without motivation, your character has no reason being in your LN at all, so it’s a good idea to think this one through.
Not that it has to complicated, like in Shiori’s case:
Shiori’s Motivation: To make friends.
Yes, that’s as good a motivation as any. You’ll find the motivation for a great many characters is simply because ‘it’s their job’. Why he’s working as a detective in the first place might be for a more meaningful motivation, but that will be ousted during writing. A simple motivation is fine for prewriting.
One of the key steps in creating a loveable character is to give them a clear motivation so readers can cheer them on as they try to achieve their goals or overcome their weaknesses.
You Can Put the Leftovers in the Notes
I should leave this section out, but didn’t want you to throw away any good ideas just because they didn’t fit into the above categories.
But if you don’t have anything to put here at first, that’s perfectly fine.
It will come in handy more during the writing process. The more you write your character, the more ideas you’ll have for her character sheet, but you shouldn’t stop writing to fill it out. Just fling the idea into your ‘notes’ and deal with it later.
Here’s a couple examples:
- Stutters when speaking to women, but not with men due to her closeness with her brother.
- Has very low blood pressure and is always cold as a result.
That’s what mine look like. You could shove a whole novel into your notes if you wanted. Just don’t let any character details go to waste.
You Can Now Create Any Character for Your Light Novel
Is she finished? Have you filled out her character sheet yet?
If so, don’t stop now, write another character! And once you have enough, go start writing your LN!
But if not, don’t fret. You’ve got this guide to help you along your way.
You don’t need much to start writing your characters into your LN. Even if you only put down one sentence or a single word into each character sheet entry, that’s OK. That’s all you need.
The more prewriting, the worse off you’ll be in the long run.
Cover your characters in tropes. Give them generic appearances. Put them all in the same uniform. None of it matters so long as you get it down on paper.
Your characters will never shine on a character sheet, but only within your LN.
So, don’t doom them to obscurity and start writing!