This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101.
Knowing Your Characters
Some Tips for Getting Into Your Character’s Story
Here are some ways to know your character more deeply, which might solve plot or story problems as you write your novel.
Many times, when a writer has hit a wall when writing their novel, it could be that the writer just doesn’t know the character well enough.
It doesn’t take much to hinder the creative process. Even not knowing a character’s preference for vanilla or chocolate ice cream can cramp the flow of words. Not knowing more major things like the character’s deep core values behind their motivations can be equally deadly to a novel’s progress.
So whether the writer is someone who plots the story before he/she writes or who just goes at it, exercises for getting to know the character can be done either before or during a novel’s creation.
Utilize Character Charts
There are several good character charts available on the internet these days. One of the best ones available is this exhaustive one from Charlotte Dillon.
The busy writer doesn’t need to fill out the chart in its entirety. Some things might simply be irrelevant to the story.
However, making yourself think about these details of your character can often give you deeper insight into things you never knew about them. This insight can jump-start a stalled story or help the writer understand why a scene isn’t working.
One of the writer’s most powerful tools is freewriting. This free association writing is one of the best ways to unleash creativity at its most unhindered and unfettered.
A freewrite can be anything—a letter from the character, a letter to the character, an interview with the character, train of thought of the writer or the character, etc.
The beginning is always the hardest, but as you dig deeper and write longer, often things come out that will surprise you about the character or the story.
The reason this happens is because the writer is diving more fully into right brain creative mode and more likely to come up with more unique ideas.
One good object of a freewrite can be to understand the character’s core values. Brandilyn Collins discusses this in her book, Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actorsin chapter one.
A character’s core values are the deepest level of truth within a character, what he or she believes about him/herself. This can be obscure or cliché, simple or complex, but core values are the foundations of a character’s motivations and desires.
Doing a freewrite to discover a character’s core values can often give deep, significant insight into the character motivations and might help un-stick a stuck story.
Another great way to get to know a character better can be to troll magazines for pictures that look like the character.
Often a writer will discover new insight into a character that is triggered by a particular photo of someone who looks like the character. There are thousands of subtle facial cues that can be conveyed by a picture, and sometimes a very delicate cue can inspire a writer to new ideas.
Remember the Importance of Character
Characters are the core of a story. Even a plot driven story needs a strong character or the reader won’t be interested.
It’s a writer’s duty to spend time to know and polish a character to make the best possible lead for a novel. So spend time getting to know your character, whether before you write or while you’re writing your novel.