Monday, March 7, 2016

How Well Should Writers Know Their Characters?

If there was a book of writing commandments, surely this would be in the top ten: Know your characters. Two recent comments brought me face to face with this.

First, one of my critique partners stated that she liked the scenes in my current work in progress from Raychel's point of view much better than Tyler's POV. "You've got Raychel down," she said, implying, "Tyler, not so much." Yeah. It shows. Besides the fact that males are often harder for me to write than females, I didn't have deep grasp on him. I need to resolve that or those scenes will not grab the reader.

Secondly, daughter #2 confessed that she was a little nervous to read my new book, Secrets of the King's Daughter, because she didn't want to hear me tell the story, meaning she wanted to get lost in the voice of the characters and forget that her mom wrote it. I'm happy to say that she was pleasantly surprised.

So how do writer's get to know their characters well enough for readers to care about them and get lost in the story? There are many ways to choose from but all take some necessary effort. I had gotten lazy with my Tyler character. Pick what appeals to you. 
  • Writing. Jot down lots of notes or use a spread sheet. Make a Character Bible. List descriptions, traits, flaws, motivations, etc.
  • Acting. Take a day or a week to live inside your character's head. Whatever you are involved in doing, let your character also have a say. Think or pretend what he would do, how she would react. Imagine yourself/an alter ego as that person until you could be them in your sleep.
  • Visual Aids. Find pictures/photos of how your characters look, where they live and work, their favorite foods, things they like to do, etc. Post them on a board or in a notebook for easy reference.
  • People. Base a character on a real and familiar person or a cross between two people and give them a twist so it's not obvious to them. Draw on personal experiences from different sources. People-watch for ideas. Listen to how teens speak, if that is who you are writing. If it gets too complicated, you will have to implement a secondary way of remembering things about your character. Any of these methods can be combined.
Characters are fun to create. Just make sure to get well acquainted.

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