How well do you know your characters?
Are they close, like a best friend, or are they a vague notion on a piece of paper?
The characters will determine the intimacy of how much you get to know them. Minor characters are like ships passing in the night, and there may not be a reason to go in depth about what makes them tick. But, for your protagonist and the sidekick it’s essential. Even for the antagonist is essential – almost as much as the protagonist.
Although you can’t put everything about your characters down on paper, you should know them. Be familiar with them as you are with your family-even better. After all, they are your creation and you need to understand how and why your character reacts to something you are plotting.
Now granted, just like human beings, your characters will change in time as you go from book 1 to book 10. They must, or they will become flat and boring. A perfect example of this is Harry Potter. If the young wizard had stayed the same frighten boy living under the stairs, you would have never read the rest of the series to learn of all the wonderful adventures (and dangers) that he faced while fighting the evil Lord Voldemort.
Expect that your characters will grow, just as you grow as a writer. Knowing your characters inside and out isn’t just knowing they have blond hair and blue eyes, or they have a southern accent.
Knowing your character involves understanding how they react to situations we, the writer, put them into. How will your hero react to criticism or complement? How will your heroine react when faced with danger or romance?
As a writer, I think we have to know ourselves in order to answer these questions about our characters. Be honest; isn’t a part of us in each one of our characters?
There are always different character profiles and different ways to come up with them. Some great computer programs are available to help you keep track of all the details. Or perhaps a good old-fashioned piece of paper in a notebook. There you can jot down the traits of your character, both physical and physiological.
I’ve found character casting is a lot of fun. This is where you find pictures of people you think would be like your character, not only in looks but in actions. I love to use pictures of actors from old shows I loved. I remember what the actor’s charter was like, and that’s the picture I borrow for my casting.
I’ve seen or used all of these methods. I feel the ones which work best ask questions about your characters, causing you think beyond the obvious. These methods don’t simply have you filling in the blanks about how tall is your character or their eye color. Instead, they asked the questions about what is your characters favorite childhood memory, what is your character afraid of.
See the difference between the two types of questions? Even if you don’t write everything down, I think a good writer needs this information back of her head. Putting it down on paper just keeps a clear.
So, let me be noisy and ask you this; is your relationship with your character like a first date, where you’re just trying to find out things about them to decide if there will be a second date? Or does it feel as if you’re in a 50-year-old marriage and you can finish each other’s sentences?
If you’re still in the dating stage, I suggest you ask more questions. You need to know your characters; you might need to reign them in one day when they take your story in a different direction. If you don’t know how they will react, your story will get away from you. When it gets out of your control, then how will you be able to keep the reader interested?
How do you get to know your character? Share your methods with us.