I have a challenge for you. I know I don’t usually start out with your challenge, but this post is a little different. I have a checklist-of-sorts for you to go through with your characters. Believe me, it will help you get to know them on a whole new level.
I was sitting in class today and I thought about my main character. Actually, I was thinking about how I was going to change the beginning of my book, and then how the beginning of the story shaped the beginning of my character. And then I sort of had a domino effect… Anyway, I wrote down her name. And then I tried to figure out words that would match her personality.
So today’s challenge for you begins here. Start by writing down the name of one of your characters. I can write for my characters, write with their personality, but I’ve never really stopped to think about their personality. I know their backgrounds. I know their appearences. I know their futures. I even know their birthdays and favorite colors. But I’ve never really worked backwards from their personality.
Come up with some key words. Maybe your character is shy. Maybe they are strong. Maybe they have abandonment issues. Maybe they have a fear of being alone. Think about that stuff, and then work backwards to figure out why. That way, when you are writing, you know what they are going to do before they do it. There will be no surprises that will jolt your story off the outline.
And that’s the way we see people in real life, too. We don’t start with the history of their family or their favorite color. We start with a first impression, and then we build their biography from there. That’s the way the reader will experience it as well. As the writer, you should know what the reader is going to experience, so you know that you are telling it right.
Instead of always looking at the character in chronological order, take a second to work backwards and see each character the way they are to the reader.
Now you are going to take each key word and build off of it. Abandonment issues could be because of many things. Maybe the character’s family died, or maybe they were just neglected. Okay, that’s a really sad example. I’m sure you will come up with happier ones.
And here’s a bonus: I found that when I was writing down these keywords, a lot of them started off with, “fear of…”
Write a list of each of your character’s’ fears. Write why they fear that. You’re character could fear being alone for the same reason that another fears commitment. Sometimes the cause can equal different effects, and vice-versa.
Keep an open mind. I know you probably think that you know your characters now, but there is always something that you are missing. Whenever I write about these character-exercises, odds are I just had a breakthrough with one of my own characters. And usually, those are the characters I thought I knew the most.
Give it a try.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!