Thor's Thoughts: Character Questions

Good day, fair readers.

As this month of August progresses, you have likely noticed our theme of Characters and Character Development. To be frank, I do not consider myself to be a complete expert on the subject, but I do have a few musings I would like to share.

When we read, we often find ourselves loving certain characters and disliking others. Why is this? Perhaps we enjoy reading the ones we relate to, or the ones we find most interesting and intriguing. Or it could be that we are drawn to wit, humor, or similar backgrounds. Regardless, we know one thing: characters without these things are often one-dimensional, and those, dear readers, are the characters who do not get love from readers.

Discovering who your characters are can be difficult, but -- as with anything in writing -- you must use the tools available to you and discover your preferred method. One thing is certain, you must know your characters as well as you know your best friend, or even yourself.

Here are a few methods you can try to see how well you know your characters, or, if you know them well already, this may perhaps help you flesh out their personalities.

1. Character Bio Sheets

Searching the internet will bring you a multitude of these in a variety of options. Questions such as their favorite color, their favorite song, dream vacation, and things of the like. I find these trivia-like questionnaires to be handy for those writing contemporary fiction. Anything set in a modern world will be more likely to use these kinds of facts. Of course, it can be altered for speculative fiction, if your SciFi has film, or your fantasy has vacation spots.

The questions on these that will be most helpful are things like, where do they live? Who are their family? Where do they work? Etcetera. Again, this is a tool. Try it, and see if it helps you. If it does, fantastic. If it does not, well... try something else.

2. Deep Questions

These are the questions you are unlikely to find ready-made on the internet. And the questions will change for each character. The point is, you must get to the bottom of who they are. What is their view on love? Religion? The political issues of the time? Who do they love? Who would they die for? What causes will they fight for? What do they do when cornered? Asking these kinds of deep questions will get you into your characters' heads and allow you a better understanding of what drives them to act the way they do.

3. Character Interview/Chapter

This can be done in a couple of ways, possibly more. One, you write out a conversation between yourself and your character. Me: _____? Character:________ and so on. "Talking" with them will often bring to light parts of their life you didn't know you had in your mind. It's quite freeing.

Or two, write out a chapter or so from their point of view. First person or third, but try to write from their perspective. Let the character's being and personality come through in how they see the world. The good Captain and Ms. Romanov, for example, would likely observe different things upon entering a civilian home. Where Steve would be thanking their host and commenting on a lovely sofa, Natasha would look around for various escape routes.

4. Discovery Write

Similar to number three, but it takes longer. For me, and my alter-ego, we often have difficulty solidifying a character until the second or sometimes third draft of a novel. We plot out the events of a story, and have an idea of who the characters are, but we do not do much questioning of them at the beginning. If I try to ask questions about a character prior to writing them, I find I get lost. Writing them out, even in thousands of words that will likely be discarded, I get to know them. By the end of a draft, I can then go back and add in little tics, opinions, and phrasings that will, from the very beginning, flesh out the character I finally know.

It should be noted that any of the above tools can also be used along with the others. I often discovery Write my characters, and then use the other tools to solidify what I know. Some writers ask the deep questions before ever beginning, and they know their characters inside and out from the start. Others might be halfway through the first draft and realize the character they thought was the main character isn't the main character at all, or won't be able to do what the plot requires of them. In those cases, perhaps a new character is needed, or an altering of the plot to allow the character to go on.

As you can tell, there are many variables when it comes to characters. Yet, they are likely the single most important of the "big three"  story elements: Plot, Character, Setting. A good plot and vivid setting will go a long way, but not if we don't care about the characters.

Go forth now, fellow writers. Give your characters a second glance, get to know them better.

Good luck.


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