Friday, October 28, 2011

Tips for Writers: Get to Know Your Characters

Recently, I had a guest post gig on Dixon Rice's blog for his "Top O'Day for Authors" series: What are the stakes? My point was, in other words, it's essential for a writer to know what's at risk for his characters. Or, as Ellen Meister puts it in her own "Writing Tip" series this morning, What does your main character want? These are fundamental questions that a fiction writer must address in order to create material on the page that will engage readers.

But in order to answer these questions, you have to get to know your characters. As I am embarking on a new book--I reserved this week for outlining and research--I am also beginning to understand (or try to understand) my new protagonist and the people around her. To that end, I am filling out a character questionnaire that I created. (I adapted mine from a couple of different sources, and you may want to do the same. Here's a relative short example: character questionnaire, but I would recommend going into even greater depth.). By the time I'm finished, I'll know just about everything about Kate (that's her name, for the moment): favorite foods, sexual proclivities, religious convictions (and any other kind of convictions, misdemeanors or otherwise!), education, eye color, best friend, embarrassing moments, political leanings, profession, grades in school, the sorority she belonged to (yes, I think she joined a sorority, possibly Tri-Delt), and so on. It's an extensive list of questions and it's going to take a lot of time and thought for me to do it (which is why I'm stalling by writing this blog post).

If I'm going to understand what she wants, however, I've got to put in that effort now. In the long run, it will pay off. (The same goes for the other main characters, by the way, especially the two men in Kate's life. Did I say "two?" Hmm. Interesting.) So, here goes. Let's see, she's how tall? Hair color? . . . .

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