How to Know Your Characters More Intimately

Books


Despite your personal opinion on structuring a novel vs. going with the flow, we can all agree on one thing: if you don’t intimately know your characters, you’re screwed.

Then the million dollar question is, how do I get to know my characters better?

Sure, you can answer 101 questions about what holiday vacation your character’s family went on in 1988. I don’t know about you, but I find that super boring.

There are many lists of questions you can use to flesh out your character and tons of different scenarios to drop them in to get to know them better.

This approach is something I learned recently, and something that surprised me at how effective it was. I felt like I knew a well-rounded character within 5 minutes of writing.

I think it’s so effective because instead of thinking of who I want the character to be, I imagine the environment they have around them. It seems so much easier to imagine, and the items they have speak volumes about who they are.

I would recommend using this in tandem with something a little more exhaustive, but this is a fantastic starting place. I was writing a short story, so this is what I came up with in 5 minutes for my character:


Name: Joe.

Brief description: Boring name for a vibrant personality. He’s 37 years old and goes out of his way to prove how young he is. Stronger than his belly would suggest. Average height, average build, piercing blue eyes.

Describe where he lives as if he’s talking:  “My loft is in a neighborhood you probably haven’t heard of. It’s an up-and-coming place. A lot of young professionals. Give it a few years, and it’ll be the hot spot of Chicago.”

Fear: Being average Joe.

Flaw: Flaky, and doesn’t care.

Strength: Passionate.

What are 3-5 things in his fridge right now? 7-week old whole milk, Ethiopian takeout box, and spicy ground mustard that has no shelf life.

What are 3-5 things in his medicine cabinet: Rogaine, a scale, and three different canisters of Axe body spray.

What are 3-5 things in his closet: Gym shorts with the tag still on it, a wide-necked Spanish shirt in a loud green, and a baseball cap.

What are 3-5 things in his car: Chipotle cups in the backseat, high school sweetheart’s mixtapes in the glovebox, and unused golf clubs in the trunk.  


Question of the day: How have you gotten to know your characters?

7 Comments

  1. Nice, I like this a lot!

  2. I interview my characters on the page. I ask them what their greatest secret is, one thing others would be surprised to know about them, what their greatest fear is, and so on. That way I hear them talk.

    I like your idea, too! I’ll give it a go.

    • That’s an interesting approach – seeing how they talk. You get a peek at their personality through dialogue. It’s a bold way to start; I might experiment with that as well.

  3. What five books do they currently have on their night table? I try to ask this of my ideal reader as well. Thank you for posting this.

  4. I love it! It is better than the interview questions which almost seem to ask the same thing several times. I will definitely use this. BTW ‘Joe’ sounds exactly like my fiance’ Joe. Haha, down to the blue eyes and belly.

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