Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Well Do You Know Your Character?

It took me several weeks and countless drafts to figure out who my main character is for a new story. When really, I could have made this a lot easier on myself. I realized I’m the type of girl who doesn’t plan, but writes as the ideas pop into my head and see where it takes me. Sometimes this works. It did for my book, Gossip. But not so much this time around.

The voice is harder to nail and even when my crit friend asked me a question about this character, I couldn’t answer. Because I didn’t know. And that’s when I realized what my problem was. I didn’t know my character. How can I expect her to face and solve problems if I didn’t even know how she was or supposed to react?

Then I remember the advice from my critique group. It is so important to have a crit group, people! Interview your character. Write out questions for your character and and interview her. Find out everything you need to know about her. And more. Get inside her head. Find out her insecurites, her fears, her dreams. Learn the simple things about her, such as her laugh, what she wants to be when she grows up, what qualities she looks for in a best friend. What does she look like? Make your MC real to you. And then, when you write about her, she’ll be just as real to your readers.

And your story will flow. You can anticipate how she will handle each situation. She’ll write the story for you. And at the end, it will be like saying goodbye to an old friend. Isn’t that so much better than struggling the whole through and trying to figure out your character page by page? For me, I’m glad I’m figuring this out now. For some of you, you probably already have or you do exercises to get this down. Or maybe some of you play it by ear and it just comes to you like it did with me and my first book.

But if you struggle at all with voice and wonder why, then maybe this could help. When you nail the voice of your character, you know it, because something just “clicks.” And to have the voice, you have to have a strong character.
How do you develop your MC?


  1. Excellent points! I find that the more I am inside the head of my character, the easier the story is to write.

  2. It's magical when you know your character so well your prose just flows out of your typing fingers. But of course, that doesn't always happen :P So your points about "interviewing" your character are pretty cool, Rose!

    Oftentimes, I compare my reaction to my protag's. Would she squeal at a spider, or would she shoo it out of the house in a no-nonsense fashion? Would she turn down those cowboy boots, or take the opportunity to strut them down the mall aisle? :)

  3. Very true. I especially agree that when you have a strong voice you have a strong character. I think I get to know my MC in a similar fashion. There are three things I really try to figure out as soon as possible.

    What does my MC want?
    What are they trying to do to get it?
    What is keeping them from getting it?

    There can be multiple answers of course, but when I feel that I'm wandering I try to go back to those questions. Sometimes it takes me a while. It's all discovery!

  4. Great post, and I agree that until you figure out your character's voice you can't really have a unique voice of your own in the book.

    With my MC I mostly focus on the past they've had, what they're working towards, the person they were and the person they've become. A character's past --like that of our own--actually sets the stage for the person they have became, and that's something that can really stand out in the voice they have. The better developed background for your character --whether it's fully described in the book or not--the stronger your character can be.


  5. Knowing your character is key! Without knowing them, how can we accurately write their reactions to what is going on around them? I do not struggle with their voices, but if I can't clearly picture one in my mind, I know I have some more characterization to do. The work of a writer. Isn't it fun?

  6. This post resonates with me because I'm been struggling with a couple of characters for a while. I realized I hadn't defined enough about their interests and hopes and fears. Once I did a detailed character sheet, I could focus on the story more.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!