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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Scarlet (Flash Fic)

Some things just shouldn’t be red.

Like eyes or bees or light bulbs.

But her lips were perfect in their shiny scarlet hue. Not everyone agreed though, and I think one of the reasons she wore her shades opposite of blue was because she enjoyed seeing them glance from her lips to the ground with tightened shoulders and frozen faces. Sometimes she would paint on a layer of white before applying the colours of the sunset so that her lips seemed to emit the glow of the sun’s bending rays as they twisted and moved to create their own gorgeous art as she took the stage. She didn’t think that what she did was anything worth mention, but even those who thought her lips were too risqué stopped to listen as she sang and used her painted lips to colour a picture of wonder and dismay.

Serial: Part 2

Jack won’t stop staring in the direction of the sound until I start dragging him away from the area. I don’t know who is lurking in the forest, who isn’t even concerned about the sharks, or who would want to actually cause us harm, especially the agonising torture of being slowly devoured, but I don’t want to find out. I take off running, still clinging to Jack’s arm in an attempt to get him away from the creature which not only injured him, but which is also weighing our lives in a very unbalanced scale.

Jack nearly falls over with the force of my pull and from his inability to voluntarily move his limbs, but once he begins to stumble, his body kicks into action and he begins to sprint, faster than I ever could and disappears into the lush and wild greenery. Great, he’s so scared that he’s leaving me behind.

A few moments later, a rock rushes by my head and my hair moves with the force of it. Is he throwing rocks at me? Why would he throw rocks at me? Another rock passes over my head, and I decide to glance back. I soon regret as well as rejoice that I did so. A dog of some sort with a large collar and an even larger set of teeth is chasing me, which is terrifying, but sends another rush of adrenaline pumping through my veins and causing my speed to increase. Another rock passes me and I hear a snarl from the dog, meaning the rock either hit or came very close to hitting it. Jack is protecting me. I can’t help but smile a little at the thought.

I finally begin to catch up to him when I notice we’re back at the glade, or a glade, with a lone tree in the middle of the clearing. Something looks strange about this tree, but I can’t tell what. Jack is already entering the shadows of the lower branches when I step into the clearing. He pauses while he’s still low in the tree to grab my hand and pull me up. We know that the branches, especially the lower ones could be the perfect shelter for small sharks, but we’re more willing to risk encountering them than the dog.

“We need to climb,” Jack says sternly. Even if I doubted his judgment, I wouldn’t bother questioning this statement, so I start climbing, trying to be as careful as I can. Stepping only on branches I know could support either or both of us, I climb as high as I would usually deem safe, and further still.

After a few minutes of climbing, I finally reach a spot where I can no longer go higher, and I hope that the owner of the dog isn’t as light or fit as Jack and I if he decides to pursue us. I look back to make sure Jack is still near me, and see that he is only a couple branches lower. He’s seems to be keeping an eye out for sharks, which might be more important than ever considering we just sent several flocks and lone birds flying, and the attention drawn from that will most likely attract every predator in the forest in our direction.

I decide to look out through the leaves from my perch. I see a sunset of bleeding orange, fiery red, and gold flecks of clouds on the horizon. It’s the most beautiful display of nature I have ever seen, but mingled with the brilliant colours, I see the grey haze of smoke blending with a lone patch of striking pink in the sky. The smoke is issuing from a cabin on a hilltop near the western edge of the forest. I don’t know whether the cabin will be a place of refuge or our doom, but I tell Jack, mentioning that it might be our only escape. “If it means getting to survive the night, I don’t care if it might be dangerous. Finding danger in or around a building doesn’t seem as though it could be as bad as all the dangers we are facing here,” he responds. We slowly begin our descent, but the darkening sky and the muffled growling of a dog are friendly reminders that whatever we do, we are not safe until we are far, far from this forest.

An Interesting Man

With his teeth fully visible and head slowly tilting forward, Erik’s dark, fluffy hair goes from looking slightly controlled and pushed back to being poofy beyond expectation and bobs in front of his forehead as his body shakes from laughter. His laughter seems to be a sort of hyperventilation, the regular ha’s mingled with gasping. His brown eyes aren’t visible because his cheeks come up so high that his eyelids are pushed together into a squint. Slowly regaining his composure and breath, he straights up to tell another story ending in laughter, to talk about his various, innumerable creative projects, or to pour his heart out about whatever is weighing on him or impassioning him. As his excitement flows into speech, his eye shine with renewed interest and curiosity. Even his stories of mold filled showers and clogged drains are filled with enthusiasm and joy, his voice growing quiet with suspense (or occasionally distraction) or bellowing with finality. He switches from subject to unrelated subject without seam or notice, and when finished or thinking, he stops looks to the left and sighs, contentment filling the sound.

Skyping him while he lives in Japan never fails to be an adventure. From his extraordinary array of flower print shirts and patterned ties to his learning another language and his ever-growing game collection, his appearance and stories never fail to impress me and brighten my day. He loves cooking with unknown foods and inviting me to help from half way around the world, while I tell stories of my day at the library or talk about my crochet and knitting projects and creations. I “learn” one or two Japanese words or phrases from my enthusiastic teacher which I forget not long after hitting the red phone button at the bottom of the screen. My thoughts linger on the conversations about God and his love and our beliefs and our discussions about our incredibly different, but similarly passionate, futures. This young Ted Mosby and I connected so quickly over our similar love for language and passion for creativity, though it took a several months to actually begin our friendship. A friendship that with hopefully last for years, if not a lifetime.

Prompt: Write about the most interesting person/people you met this year.
(I technically met Erik last fall, but we didn’t begin conversing or become friends until this spring.)

Pale Pink Paper

“Hey, Nathan? I lost the notes for our assignment.”

We went to a concert, took notes in response to some very specific questions, and enjoyed the company of the British man sitting behind us so we could get our experiential credit for a class, and I lost our notes. I wasn’t back in my dorm for ten minutes before I reached over to were I put the pale pink paper covered in scribbled, doctor-like scratches and messy, yet readable cursive to find that it was no longer there. Not only were the notes for our semi-drowsy, semi-entertaining course, but they also had some witty add-ins and comical sketches intermingled with the two dancing scripts. I was panicking as I carefully unstacked worn books, pulled back colourful blankets, opened organised drawers, and looked underneath the low-laying bed.

Nowhere. The notes were gone.

As I tried to calm myself down to avoid an anxiety attack, I pulled out the simple cream-coloured program and began to look online to find the orchestral pieces.

“Another hour and a half of listening to the same music again. Oh, joy,” I murmured sarcastically as I pulled out my phone to inform my friend of our newly perceived dilemma.

I started moving the furniture around in hopes of finding the sheet of paper for fear of my lacking ability to remember how the various songs sounded. I searched for several minutes, fully aware that I had taken the paper out and placed it inside the book which would be cited in our assignment, so I checked the pages again, gently turning every page until I had seen the entire book. It still wasn’t held inside, hugged in safety near the spine.

“Sam and Christina Jo took good notes as well, I’ll ask them if they can send us photos or let us borrow them,” Nathan replied.

That is exactly what occurred.

Several months later, as my roommate and I were rearranging the furniture for moving out for the summer, I moved my bed away from the wall for the umpteenth time to see a carefully folded piece of pale pink paper float to the ground.

Prompt: write about a loss.

Would you like to read about the imagined adventures of the pale pink paper as another random prompt? If so, let me know via the comments down below.

What’s something you’ve lost when it was (at least seemingly) dire that you have it and found when it held no more importance?