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The Little Things

May 12, 2009

How well do you know your characters?

In order to get to know their characters some actors will try to become them, living their daily lives as their characters, writing journals in their voices and speaking in their accents. Allt his so they can seem more the characters they portray.

So what about writers? How much should we do to get in our characters’ heads?

There is no one right answer. For a secondary or tertiary character we may need only understand the few simple aspects that are shown in their brief scene—but for a first person narrator you need to know all you can.

But how can you get to know an imaginary person? The same way you get to know a real person—by learning little details about them until you can build a cohesive picture of them.

  • How do they drink their coffee? Are they a frappuccino kind of gal, or do they prefer drip from the gas station with 3 sugars?
  • What is their religion, and how often do they practice it? Do they choose their religion or do they go to their wife’s church?
  • Do they open their presents on Christmas Morning or Christmas Eve?
  • What was the first album they ever bought, and why was that one their first?
  • Do they touch tye or type with two fingers?
  • What medications do they take?
  • What drugs have they one?
  • What book are they reaing and what do they think of it?

There are hundreds more. And while you certainly don’t have to ask every question of every character you do need to know enough about them so that they can convincingly play their part.

What questions do you like to ask your characters, so you can get to know them?

Dale lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his fiancée and four step-children, and spends a good portion of his time trying to locate an absent muse. You can read about him, his family and his struggles at Rough Draft.
  1. May 12, 2009 7:33 am

    I love doing this. What they do with their spare time, like on Friday nights is a good one.

    As an aside, I blogged about a similar thing here a few years back:

  2. May 12, 2009 9:42 am

    Getting to know my characters is never that structured. I ask them questions that are relevant to the story and see if they answer. Not all of my characters are willing to talk to me at the beginning of a novel, but all I need is one. The others will inevitably get curious and come around. I had one character open up to me only to quit talking after the girl he loved left him. He blamed me. He was right. I’ve had other characters turn out to be regular Chatty Cathys, filling my head with all kinds of information I would never dream of asking.

    In general, getting to know my characters is less an interview than a sort of channeling. If I’m in a quiet place and relaxed in my mind, I just sort of tap into them and they tell me what they think I need to know. Depending on the character, I may have to do some interpretation because sometimes they lie or at the very least share only their version of the truth. Like people in the real world, they often delude themselves, so it’s up to me to figure out what’s really going on.

    There’s a fun new blog for exploring your characters, if anyone is interested: Come in Character

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