This post answers a very excellent question from a Harlot Author: “How much time do you spend outlining your characters personalities before you start writing versus developing them as you go?”
There is no right answer for everyone, of course, so I’m only telling you what I do.
I LOVE research, so I give myself two weeks between finishing one book and starting the next to research things (their inner and outer goals, their emotional wounds, their jobs, their homes, their style, muses for characters, make a Pinterest board, write a scribble sheet, reread ROMANCING THE BEAT and look at all my plotting notes) and then I start writing.
Two weeks might not sound like much, but because I plan out a series ahead of time, I already know the tropes, at least one of the main characters if not both, probably their emotional wounds (but not always) and the conflict. The two weeks is really just to flesh out details and get them talking to me.
The emotional wound research is the most critical for me. I need to know what baggage they carry, what bullshit they’ve buried deep inside them. It tells me a LOT.
The danger, of course, it that this “outlining” or “research phase” could go on forever! There’s no pressure, and it’s fun. You could spend MONTHS filling out character arcs and beat sheets and making lists of goals and dreams for the people in your head. But this is a trap–it allows you to put off the actual hard work of writing.
My advice would be to decide on your tropes and conflict, give yourself a set amount of time to get a feel for your characters. What do they WANT on a surface level? What do they NEED on an emotional level? What WOUND is standing in their way? How are they protecting themselves? Two weeks works for me, but maybe you only need one. Or three. Either way, set a deadline for when you will actually start putting words on the page.
Keep in mind that as you start to dive deeper into the story, things are going to change! There is NO WAY to know your characters so well before you start typing that they reveal themselves to you completely. They will shift and grow and breathe as the story does. Let them take the lead. You are just the scribe.
As for “outlining,” I am a VERY loose plotter. I know where a story starts, where it ends, what the midpoint looks like, and I usually have some ideas for cute scenes or big fights. Other than that, I stay aware of story structure and let my characters guide me through.
In addition to ROMANCING THE BEAT by Gwen Hayes, I really love CREATING CHARACTER ARCS by K.M. Weiland. For more on exploring emotional wounds, try the Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma, by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.
Hope this helps!