Getting to know your characters should seem like the easiest thing in the world to do for an author, after all, you’ve created them. I have seen a lot of questions asked lately in the Twitter Writing Community about how to get to know your characters. I believe that you can have the best plot in the world that draws readers in, but if the characters are well-rounded and fleshed out the whole work will flop. I want to share my tips on how I do my best to create vibrant characters.
I am not a planner. When I start writing a novel, I don’t have the plot all mapped out. I usually have a loose idea of the climax and I build the story out around it. Next, come the characters. Like the narrative, I usually have a loose idea of who they are. I imagine them, with just the basics and I begin to write. It is during the writing process for me that I begin to hear their voice come through in the writing.
For example, look at Ben and Rachel in McKinley Park. I knew Ben was a police detective and I wanted Rachel to be a single mom. I started with the most basic aspects of who they are. After a few chapters, I can begin to see their voice and this influences more of who they are. When I started McKinley Park, I didn’t know Ben was one of three brothers, like Rachel’s boys. As I wrote their fist date and needed the two connect this idea spoke to me.
It is usually around chapter 3 or 4 that I really begin to get to know my characters. It is at this time that I pause for what I call a character interview. I know this sounds nuts but I swear it changed my writing for the better. I basically interview the character asking questions like:
What is your favorite food?
Where did you grow up?
What was your home life like?
What is your favorite feature about yourself?
(Because I write Romance) Why do you love X?
What do you do for fun?
I ask these sorts of questions of my characters and I walk away knowing them much more intimately. I am able to continue writing on in the project really knowing who my characters are. I know their likes and dislikes, some of their past and a lot more.
In the first book I ever wrote, I dreamed the story first so my imagination had already done the work for me of physical appearance. I find that for me, physical appearance usually comes in later. In McKinley Park, I had a rough idea of what Rachel looked like, slim, busty, with dark brown hair and green eyes, and soft, pink lips. Rhett, her ex, his appearance came to me very early. In the spirit of honest conversation, Ben’s physical appearance was a mystery to me through so much of the book. I kept asking him, what do you look like? No joke, it wasn’t until the last few chapters that I got an idea of what he looks like. Physical appearance is not the easiest for me and it is a common criticism that I hear from my beta readers. I am trying to work on my interview questions to include more of this information so I can get a better idea of what they look like.
I also like to imagine my characters in different situations outside of the plot. I like to imagine what their reaction would be. For example, what would Rhett do if one of his son’s puked in his fancy car? What would his reaction be? I love this exercise, I feel like not only do I get to know the character better but it is like cake for my imagination, yummy and indulgent. I find that I do this best right before I fall asleep. I set the scene and let my character loose as I drift off to sleep. Seriously, try it, it is awesome!
There are lots of ways to get to know your characters. Make the time to do it, your work will be so much stronger for it. Try your best to take yourself out of the equation and let them speak, you might be surprised at what they have to say. I know I have been for sure in the past! I have included a few links below of good resources for getting to know your characters. Take a look. Fellow writers if you have any tips or tricks getting to know your characters please share with the class in the comments.