On Getting to Know Your Characters

Hello my dears!

Back in February I talked about everything I know about writing a book. I’m here to offer some tips younglings, and as it is still the month of San Diego Comic Con I thought talking about characters and character development went in line with the SDCC theme. If you’re looking for something a little more comic book-y, however, check out my last post on Nightwing, the Man Wonder!

Sit back and relax my dears, here are my five tips for getting to know your characters:

  1. What is your character afraid of? What do they dream of?
    These are perhaps the two best questions for getting to know your character. Imagine you’re sitting down with them in a coffee shop asking them these questions, how do they respond?
    Are they afraid of spiders? Why? Are they afraid of being alone? Are they afraid of the dark, of their mother, of dogs?
    What do they dream about? Literally, figuratively? Do they have nightmares? What of? Do they have reoccurring dreams? What did they dream of being when they were younger? What do they dream of being now? What are their dreams for the world, for their friends, for themselves?
    Each of these questions will provoke an answer if you listen, and if you pay attention you may learn a bit more about your character’s story as well.
  2. How would your character react to being put in a scenario opposite the one they’re in?
    If your character is in a post-apocalyptic world, how would they react to being in a Starbucks? If your character was born with magic, how would they react to it being taken away? If your character has a sibling how would they react to losing that sibling? If they’re a criminal how would they react (or who would they be) if they had gotten away with their crime? If they have gotten away with their crime, how would they react to getting caught? What would have happened?
    To give you a personal example, my Death character, Mort– I asked myself what would happen if she were a human? What kind of story would she have then? And I found out how sincere of a person she is. The story wouldn’t be too different outside of soul collecting, of course. You may think some of these details aren’t relevant, but it’s these details that allows us as writers to see the depth and layers to our characters. It’s important to treat your characters as people, that is my greatest piece of advice.
  3. Your side character, what do they have to say?
    Your character’s best friend, what would they have to tell you about your character, their story, the people they surround themselves with? Your character’s parent, how do they view the situation, what is their point of view? Their spouse, significant other, classmate, teacher, coworker? Your side characters are as important as your main character.
    I discovered how my coffin-maker (Sasha)’s father feels through having a conversation with him. One day, I just wondered why he behaves the way he does, and he told me. It was enlightening, and because he’s one of my mc’s parents, I learned a lot about their relationship– both sides of it.
  4. What’s the worse thing that happened to your character?
    Did someone close to them die? Who was it? Have them walk you through the event, allow them to give you all the details (if they want to talk about it; don’t force it!). You’ll find that a lot of their decision-making will center around this tragic event, or lack thereof!
    Mort had a few events to share with me in regard to this question.
  5. Who does your character love?
    They will do anything for this person. Who is it? How do they know them? How did they meet? Why do they love them? And what wouldn’t they do for this person? Is their love returned? Why? Why not? And if you haven’t already spoken to this character, do so. They probably have a lot to share. And your character’s motives probably have to do with this person in some way or another.

My final tip for you, and this doesn’t necessarily have to do with characters and character development, I just know it’s something I struggled with in the past, and that’s conflict. Every chapter needs an external conflict. Your character has to want something and figure out how to get it. It could be something simple: a glass of water. Or something big: a kidnapped sibling. What we humans love to see is people overcoming obstacles, and perhaps even more than that what we love to see is people’s mentality. They’re reasoning– who they are. I want water but I’m in a desert. Interested in knowing what I’m going to do? I’m going to give up. I’ve been looking for water, and I’m done. But wait, there’s a lizard with a prickly pear fruit in its mouth. I have a knife. Interested in knowing what it is I’m going to do?
That’s how you get people to keep turning pages. Don’t get me wrong, internal conflict is good too, but what we all want to see –and I think you do too, even as the writer– is what our characters will do. Answering some of the above questions may help you siphon through the details to discover exactly who your characters are. For better or for worse.

Everything in your book must matter. The setting, the characters, the dialogue, the plot. They all interweave into each other, and therefore influence each other and hold each other back. Treat everything in your novel –characters especially– as special. Your character’s story belongs to that character for a reason, and is told in the way that it is, and placed in the setting that it is, for a reason. It’s up to you, as the mediator, to discover what that reason is.

 

Care to know more about Mort and Sasha in their novel The Coffin-maker’s Basement? I share no spoilers, but you can learn more about them and their story by following me on Instagram or by reading these posts:

On Writing a Book

A Year in Books: 2017

Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

Yin Yang Myths Part Three: Life and Death

Yin Yang Myths Part One: Lycoris Radiata

Baba Yaga

Thank you for reading,

-M

 

Want to be kept up-to-date on all my writing advice? Just click the Follow button at the top right of the page. I post every other Thursday!

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