Tag Archives: getting to know your characters

I’m Taking My Character Out For Drinks.

My novel-in-progress is told through three rotating, first person POVs. I’m currently editing the front end of the novel and will soon submit the first 75 pages to my one-on-one Continuing Studies instructor for his critiques. In May, I’ll present said 75 pages to the certificate program panel.

Chapter one is in the POV of the matriarch, Anne. Chapter two is in Burt, the eldest son’s POV and in chapter three we hear from Barb, the youngest sibling—an attractive, mid-thirties, narcissist personality.

As I read my early drafts of chapter three, I’m pleased to find Barb’s voice is distinctive. However, after completing the master class in novel-writing, I now recognize I haven’t demonstrated what matters to her as a wife/mother/daughter/sister. The challenge with this character is not in plopping her down in the middle of chaos and letting bad things happen in her life. I love writing a character that does everything I wish I could do.

My responsibility in creating Barb’s character is in keeping her real and relatable. It’s not important that readers like her, but it’s paramount that I infuse enough layers to her character that they care what happens to her.

So how am I going to do this?

I’m going to take Barb out for a few drinks, maybe even get her a bit tipsy, peel back her defences and peer behind her eyes. I going to find out how she ticks and identify her vulnerabilities.

What you need to know about your characters. 

In order to get close to your characters, it’s a great idea to take them out and while you’re out, interview them. Don’t think of this as extra work, but as an opportunity to spend time with your characters outside of the confines of your story. Even if none of the details you uncover are relevant to your story, you need to know them to make your characters real and to convince your reader that they can trust you, that you have a handle on your story and all its players.

Your narrative mustn’t simply fill the reader in on the action. It has to shine a light on your characters, not only through what information they volunteer up, but also the information they offer through their preoccupations and perspectives.

Here are twelve questions you may want to ask your characters during the interview process.

  • Are you a cat person, dog person, parakeet person?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What’s your idea of a dream vacation?
  • If you could have any other job, what would it be?
  • Whom do you consider a hero?
  • Which do you prefer: rock, opera, or jazz – and why?
  • What do you carry in your pockets or your purse?
  • Whom would you have voted for in the last election?
  • How would you describe your current circumstances to a close friend, before and then after a few drinks?
  • What would you write about in your journal?
  • What is your worst fear?
  • What are you most proud of?


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing