Getting to Know Your Characters

There are seemingly countless ways to get to know your characters in anything ranging from short stories to novels. And there are almost as many blogs telling you how to get to know them and what way is the best way. I’m definitely not here to give you a definitive “this is how you do it!” But I will list the different techniques that have helped me most, and a couple that I just recently started on my own.

Character Sketches
Character sketches vary in depth a large amount, but doing them is incredibly helpful. You don’t even need to know much about your characters or story for this, but it’s a wonderful tool to improve your knowledge on your characters and how they affect your story/how your story affects them.

The character sketches that I usually do deal with nine things:
Physical Description
Role in the story
Motivation
Background
Goal(s)
Personality
Quirks/Oddities
First thing that others notice about him/her
Characters with whom he/she interacts and how

Character Interviews
These are a bit similar to character sketches; however, they are much more detailed. There are so many forms of interviews. Mine tend to change from character to character. Countless examples can be found online, and they are full of questions that seem obvious and others that you may not think are important at all, but provide details that come into play later or spark an idea for a scene or another story.

Here are some of my personal favourite interview questions that I never would have thought could become important, but have sparked ideas for scenes for my book:
What is your favourite flavour of ice cream?
What is your favourite animal, and would you keep one as a pet?
Would you rather be the first killed in a group or the last?
What is your least favourite form of travel?
What flavour is your toothpaste?
Who is your least favourite person to see over the holidays?

Placing Characters in Extreme Situations
So this is an idea I’ve heard floating around for a few years, and I always thought it was a bit bizarre though completely understandable. My main thought was that if you’re going to write such a scene, why wouldn’t you put it in your book? Well, sometimes scenes just don’t fit, but you can learn loads about your characters from them. The first time I did it was with a character from a short story I wrote for my Creative Writing course in uni. I didn’t use the scene, but writing about it helped me to understand how one of my characters carried herself and what she might be willing to do to protect herself or her loved ones. Even though the scene was far from fitting for the story, it gave me a few ideas for how she might interact with her co-part. The second time I did this exercise, it ended up making it into my novel, and has helped me learn far more about my two main characters than I could have ever expected. That one will actually be found here on my blog in a few days.

So even if you know or don’t think you would use such a scene in your story, write a scene or two set in dramatic situations so that you can learn how your characters will react and interact. It might surprise you.

Drawing Your Characters
Actually drawing your characters (or having someone else draw them for you) can be a great aid in changing your perspectives of them. It may help you realise how much their height is a burden, how visible their scars are, how comfortable they are in fancy outfits, or how little they care about their appearance.

But more importantly, doing this might also help you see them through the eyes of your other characters as well. I know that I frequently forget about my own moles, scars, eye colour, bone structure, and clothes; and I can guarantee that your characters do much the same. Visibly seeing your characters can help you see what things they tend to forget that others might notice as well as what your character fixates on that others pay no attention to.

Character Playlists
It’s incredibly rare that I do this, but I have found it very helpful. Learning your characters’ favourite tunes or finding songs that make you think of them can help inspire you or help you think more like them. I’ve made a playlist that starts off with a song that reminds me of my main character, even though she would never listen to it, and continues with some of the music that might be some of her favourite. For me, it can be a bit tricky to do this since the only music with words that I can listen to while writing is Christmas music, but I take the music that my character may like most (especially those songs that have lyrics) and intersperse them throughout the playlist. I tend to space them approximately 20 minutes apart so that I can spend a good portion of time writing before something play that could be distracting.

Shopping as Your Character
This one might be the most bizarre one on here, but it’s also been one of the most helpful for me. I’m not saying that you should actually buy things, but going to stores and looking around as if you were your character may help you learn about their preferences for clothing, decor, entertainment, and household/office supplies. These may be things that seem fairly trivial overall, but knowing how your character dresses, decorates, has fun, and how prepared they are for various circumstances in their household/office can help you stage and plot scenes quite well. It can also get you thinking as your character and help you write scenes you may be struggling with.

Blogging as Your Character
I just recently decided to start doing this for Zoe and Andrew (two of the main characters of my novel). I’ve realised that I’ve had a bit more difficulty getting into their minds when I go to write lately because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on the novel regularly. So I’ve started going through various blog and journal prompts and challenges through their perspectives. A lot of them are/will be rather similar to some of the interview questions, but they are meant for going further in depth in choices and explanations. This will not only help me to get to know my characters more, but it will help me to think more like them so that the transition from everyday life to writing life is a tad easier. I’ll be posting my first one from Zoe’s perspective tomorrow, so keep an eye out!

How do you get to know your characters more? How do you get inside their minds and think like them so that writing comes easier? Let me know down in the comments!

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A Boggus Life

I am an eclectic reader and editor who solves Rubik's cubes, writes, draws and paints, and longs to live in England and France.

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