What Do Your Characters Risk? Creating Characters

I’m going to apologize now that I’ve been so late posting this. I wanted to have it up on Monday with the follow up articles posted every other day, but with life coming at me hard this weekend, it didn’t happen. Now all the articles will be one after the other.

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For me creating a character is the easiest part of writing, probably because every story I do starts with a character or two. I love Character driven plots. I love to see the characters evolve through the conflict that enters their lives. To me, characters are what move the story plot along.

Developing characters into a 3-dimensional person will bring your story and your world to life for the readers. There are writers that prefer to plan out their characters before they write a word. Others prefer to do it as they are writing the story. While others do a little of both, small plan and write to learn more about their characters.

The best why I have found to make characters real is to ask one simple question, “What is at stake for this character?” If you can answer this question you are a step closer to learning your character’s fears, hopes, motivations, and anxieties. You are closer to improving the quality of your writing. You give the readers insight into the minds of the character and a chance to better understand them. You are a step closer to giving the reader a firm sense of who the character is.

But don’t just stop at the protagonist(s), do this for every character in the book. They all must risks something.  And we as writers need to show the readers what is at stake for the various characters—even if it’s just a passing mention or foreshadow for the next book—because characters that have something at stake are more interesting because they are in danger of losing something if they gamble on a particular character or course of action.

I’ve heard a few suggestions on how writers can do this:

  • Some like character interviewing. For example: Interview the villain about what motivates him. (e.g. Why did you murder X? Why have you sworn revenge on this particular man/family/group of people? What made you decide to run this scam?) ; interview the heroine about what drives her. (e.g. Why is it so important to you to switch jobs? Why do you want to move to a different city? What is it about X that draws you to him? How did you become estranged from your sister?) ; interview characters about a specific aspect of their lives. (e.g. What was the most significant event you can remember from your childhood? What are your political beliefs? Do you have a deep, dark secret? What is one thing that you have done that you would prefer others not to know about? What do you think would be the perfect lifestyle? How quickly can you make decisions?)
  • A freewrite either based on questions about your characters. You can take the ones above or ones like: What do they love? What motivates them? What do they hide from the world? What are they afraid of? Your freewrite can also be just that, free to lead you where it may.
  • Character sketches: I read a book once that demanded a full Character Dossier was called for. Some like a little less work and a simple character sketch.

For me, I found that The Gossip Papers: A Mythical Tabloid for my book worlds helps me learn about the characters, how one might perceive them despite they’re real motivation, and gives me a glimpse into their world. Whatever method makes your characters real to you can help you make them real to your readers later.

15 Comments

  1. M T McGuire says:

    Good advice there… Talking of sketches, a while back there, when the Real World got to hectic I had to give up writing for 6 months. It was horrible but I found that by drawing actual pictures I was able to keep reasonably in touch with the plot!

    Music is good, too. I put on the right types of songs and let the images float into my head. A couple of plays and I write down what I see.

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. When summer comes here on the Ranch, my writing time is cut down to an hour a day and I find myself thinking about my story and writing snippets of stuff throughout the day. I hate the moments when I have to give up writing and I think everyone else does too. I wasn’t moody when I was pregnant, but I sure am moody when I don’t write. 😀

  2. I’ve enjoyed doing character interviews and blogs in the voice of various characters. Getting into their heads- even characters who might not even carry a name in the book- really works wonders.

    1. It does. i tried Character interviewing but I suck at it. Ruth does them and she pulls it off perfectly. Her characters are alive and funny. You really get a feel for each characters personality.

  3. Beaulah says:

    Excellent post! Nice to know I’m not alone and completely crazy (I interview and free-write my characters regularly). A couple drafts ago, I had a completely different villain and someone said she seemed a bit flat, so I went away and interviewed her and discovered that she didn’t really want to rule the world, she just wanted this guy who’d rejected her as a teenager to fall in love with her and be totally devoted to her – and she was willing to do whatever it took (including taking over the world) in order to make that happen. Suddenly she made so much more sense, and rewriting the story with that in mind changed everything (and infinitely improved the book as a whole)!

    Have you found that your characters take on a life of their own when you start interviewing them? Have you ever had a character surprise you and totally do something you weren’t expecting?

    1. I surely have! I sometimes think the characters move the story in the direction that you weren’t expecting as an author. I had one villain who I thought would be the one who’d become unhinged in the end, and instead, she was the one who had the moment of clarity.

      1. Beaulah says:

        That’s cool. I love when twists like that happen – they make the story so much more interesting, don’t you think?

    2. Most of my characters have surprised me at one time or another. Hades was suppose to be more dominate and pushy, taking what he wanted, but as I wrote the story, he could be that way with everyone else, yet refused to be that way with Persephone. Persephone started out child-like from start to finish, she never had much of a backbone, but in the rewrites she demanded that she got to be her own person and not have Hades save her. Then Thanatos wasn’t even suppose to be in the book at all, so he’s the most surprising of all my characters. 😀

      1. Beaulah says:

        Hehe, that’s awesome Stephannie – you know the weird coincidence? Those are the things I love most about Persephone and Hades! And Thanatos was just brilliant. I’d love to see more of him. He’s a great character.

        1. He gets his own story 😀

          1. Beaulah says:

            Really! Oh that’s exciting =D Can’t wait to read it. Do give me a yell if you want some more proof reading 😉

            1. I will. 😀 I’m finding myself looking for proofreaders and beta readers for my books again. I had a few who said they would read my last book, but they proved unreliable. I think some of them were looking for a free book 😦

              1. Sorry. Free book without the effort.

                1. Beaulah says:

                  Yeha, I know what you mean. I think you really have to be committed to giving good feedback and know what you’re getting yourself into when you offer to beta read. I have relatively little time and way more books on my shelf than I could ever read (as I’m sure is the case with most authors). When I offer to read something it’s because the author is awesome and I feel I have something to contribute 😉

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