Character Building.

Hands up if you know your characters and your plot and even have a synopsis all written before you begin your novel?  Oh boy, I am nowhere near that prepared, but I hear some writers are. That’s got to take some skill, although my problem is I’m quite the creative sort, and I allow each chapter to guide me in the next direction I should go. This of course makes for interesting and time-consuming rewriting as I’m usually halfway through my first draft before I truly know my characters.

So, in order to get on board with solidifying my characters at least, I came up with an interview questionnaire (which I now have in place.) Yes, you heard that right–a questionnaire. My fictional people must answer a range of questions, before they even begin to exist. <Chuckling>  Yeah, if that didn’t sound crazy, then you too must be a writer, for only we truly would get this.

Now, those interview questions are for my heroine, my hero, the antagonist, and any secondary character to the heroine and hero who has a large speaking role. So far, they are–

  • Where were you born, and do you have both parents, or just one, or neither?
  • What’s your age?
  • What kind of relationship do your parents have?
  • Do you have any siblings? (Give me their names and ages, and even the ones that may be a secret because your parents haven’t told you yet.)
  • What’s your favorite food?
  • Are you an early riser, or do you like your sleep-ins?
  • What’s your most influential memory?
  • Do you have any paranormal skills you need to tell me about?  (I don’t need them popping up unannounced, because that’s just a hassle.)
  • Where would you like to be in ten years? (And be honest with me–don’t go telling me in a sequel or series, because I’m not sure if I can make that happen.)

Okay, by the end of my questionnaire, you can see, me and my characters get quite chummy, although I’d like to point out, some of this information won’t actually go in my book. Nope, it’s more so I can do my job as the author to direct each character’s experiences as is necessary.

And that’s what it’s all about, understanding how our characters will act, as well as interact with each other. Because as most authors know, when we’re writing, our characters have a mind of their own and will play out their scenes and develop the story’s plot for us–and that’s where the magic of writing happens. There is nothing more wonderful or more believable for the reader than when an author lets the novel go in the direction the characters want. Ah, I love that part about writing.

So, if you interview your characters in such a way, let me know.  Do you have any additional questions you ask? Or did you just find this post might have you sitting down and talking to your characters a little more?

Well, that’s all for this week, and I hope my blog post aided you.  If you haven’t joined me for your weekly dose of bite-sized writing tidbits and you’d like to, then simply check out the right-hand side panel, and enter your email address to “follow the blog.”  If you want, also click “like” on my FB author page to the right.  I love all the support.

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15 thoughts on “Character Building.

  1. I totally understand the questionnaire. I keep a notebook beside me as I write. As my character evolves and becomes more a part of the story, I make notes so I don’t forget the new element. My main thing is when I get inspiration to write a book, I usually sit down and write a detailed outline. I can see most of my work from start to finish in my head. I spend a lot of nights thinking stories through. My newest work I am on, I stepped away from the usual outline. It is going better than I originally thought it would. Good luck with your work!

    1. Hi Stephanie, love your comment. As an aside I asked my fellow New Zealand writer, Nalini Singh, how she keeps tabs on all her characters over the Guild Hunter and Psy-Changeling series she writes, and she told me she has a “Series Bible”–that’s some serious stuff, but I can definitely see why. Your notebook idea sounds like a brilliant one to me.

  2. I often interview my characters when I’m stuck on a scene or get lost in my story. I don’t have a set of questions since I like to let the interview evolve as my imagination sees fit but I can see how it could be helpful.

  3. Hi Joanne, I do something very similar to what you do and as someone else mentioned, I keep a notebook close by so I can add things too. Sometime, especially for the main characters I even find out their favorite colors and foods. You never know when they’re going to decide to go out and eat or even shopping. I really liked your questionnaire. I hope you don’t mind if I use it.

    1. Hi Donna. Absolutely you can use the questionnaire. I love the idea of adding favorite colors and foods as you’ve said. That always crops up in a story for me, too. One other thing I do which I should have mentioned, is I go through magazines and pull out the picture closest to what my main characters look like. This gives me a great visual, and I attach the images to the front of each questionnaire.

  4. I do this is well! As mentioned above I also keep everything in a notebook. I usually have a general idea who and what my characters are before I begin as well as the beginning and ending of the story. The rest of the story I leave up to the characters. I tried doing an outline but I found myself straying so far away from what I wanted each chapter to be. Needless to say I gave up on that whole concept and just let the characters do as they wished based on their personalities. I find writing to be so much easier when I understand my characters better. Love this post!

  5. I use a mindmap to capture my character’s characteristics. I will often revisit the map, as I tend to tune my characters as time goes on. I find that I can brainstorm and then tune my character, saving me time. Having all of the character attributes visible on one page imbibes my characters with a life of their own. Here a mindmap template I use to brainstorm and formulate

  6. I don’t interview my characters, per se, but I do create a general outline of their character, talents, etc. I LOVE your interview technique and will start using it. What a wonderfully creative idea! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi Joanne, thanks for sharing your technique! I want to mention the book The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. He proposes a lot of techniques and practical exercises for getting you to know the world of your story (which you have not yet written), and its characters (whom you get to know more and more through the exercises.

    I used it a lot when preparing for my first novel, which I am currently trying to finish. It helped a lot in the character building process.

    An interesting example is when he proposes to “As your hero, write for five minutes 1) the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and 2) the most cowardly thing I’ve ever done”. And then you should do the same, for the villain.

    Best regards from Ola in Sweden.

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