Getting to Know Your Characters

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Writing
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There are so many parts of a story that can turn it into something wonderful. Plot, world building, tone, language and so on. There’s a lot. There are arguments for everything and in the end, most end up being a matter of personal taste. The more writing I do, the more I find that a lot of those building blocks hinge on knowing your own characters.

Plot? How am I going to know what’s going to happen unless I know my characters?

World building? If I don’t filter it through my characters’ eyes, it’s just a DnD sourcebook.

Language? Without knowing my characters, how can I put words in their mouths?

See what I’m getting at? An InkPunks blog post a while back talked about how Zelazny wrote short stories about his protags before writing them into novels. One of Saladin Ahmed’s short stories in Engraved on the Eye works out as backstory for Throne of the Crescent Moon. Sam Sykes has done annual Valentine’s Day blogs where his characters answer relationship questions.

I kind of got to know my characters on the fly in Amity… I’ve noticed a few bits in act one that aren’t quite matching up with act three since it took me so long to get from one to the other. This time, I’m going to get into my character’s heads before I start writing the next novel. In addition to helping out with the Connecticut godpunk novel, this whole thing will keep up my creative momentum while I’m doing the initial editing passes of Amity.

First, I’m going to try the short story route. The “now” of the novel, isn’t when the protag/POV character gets the powers which are central to.. well… everything. How he becomes who he is independent of the novel’s plot. So the short story is going to work out as backstory similar to the way Ahmed’s story works for Throne. Backstory that’s crucial for the character, but only referenced in the plot itself.

Second, I’m going to go the meta route. I started doing this a little bit on twitter a while back by writing quotes from various characters of mine on twitter. It wasn’t really a concentrated effort and tapered off when I made my big push to the finish for Amity back in November. This time around, I’ve made an actual twitter account. I’m going to see where it goes. It might not work out. Maybe no one bothers to look at it. Maybe both. But it’s a small investment of my time with the potential for a solid payoff. @ErisKatsopolis by the way.

Third, I’m going to dust off something from college and an acting class I took. I wasn’t a theater kid, but as part of my film degree, I thought it would be fun to use a couple electives for what was happening with the other side of the camera. Also there was a hilarious moment on the first day of class because I was the prof’s first second generation student. One thing the prof did in that class was give us all a handout of 47 questions and we had assignments to run through them all to get in the characters’ heads. It’s a lot of typing and I’m not actually sure where the prof got it from so I’m not sure on the kosherness of typing it out here anyways. If anyone is interested, ping me and I’ll share. But there are some in depth questions involving goals, happy/sad memories, family life and education. Even short answers can get you a lot of information about your characters.

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