This week, we’re taking a look at different ways to spend time with our characters.
Why “spend time” with them, you ask? Because we want to learn more about them…and since most of us don’t have a crystal ball, we’ll have to actually get to know those characters up close and personal-like.
If you want your characters to trust you with their innermost thoughts, feelings, fears, and desires, you need a good relationship with them. Or–if your characters aren’t the trusting types–then you’ll need time to learn to read between the lines of whatever they DO tell you.
We looked at a few “character date” ideas on Monday. Now it’s time to explore a few more active options. Have fun!
Tactic #3: Try a Hobby
Does your character have a hobby? If not, give them one! Then explore questions such as the following:
- What is it?
- Why or how did they pick up this hobby?
- What do they love about it?
- How do they pay for it?
- When do they engage in this hobby?
- Are they embarrassed about it? (Consider giving your character an out-of-character hobby–like the wrestler who cooks, or a pianist who skydives, or the cheerleader who drives in demolition derbies on weekends…hmm, I’d like to read about that last character!)
- Who opposes this character’s hobby? Does anyone make fun of them for it? Press them to give it up? Tell them to spend their time on something more useful/ practical/ ladylike/ legal?
You can also get to know your character by trying out this hobby for yourself. If your character is an artist, play around with a sketch pad and pencils; if he’s a photographer, get out of the house with your camera.
Tactic #4: Take a Test
Consider filling out a psychological profile or taking a personality test from your character’s point of view. These can go far beyond the standard Meyers-Briggs profiles to include traits such as character strengths, optimism vs pessimism, and more. For instance…
- 35 Questions To Ask Your Characters From Marcel Proust
- Jung Typology Test
- Psych Central Personality Test
- VIA Survey of Character Strengths
- Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center
Tactic #5: Walk in Your Character’s Shoes
Have you ever tried your hand at acting? Actors have to portray characters’ attitudes, motivations, reactions, thoughts, emotions, and more, using only tools such as body language and dialog. And yet a talented actor can communicate all of the above in mere moments. How do they do it?
Like writers, actors have a host of tools in their belts to help them understand their characters inside and out. Perhaps the biggest of those tools is Method Acting. Author Brandilyn Collins applies the techniques of method acting to the writing craft in Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors. From the book’s introduction:
[The artist’s] job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form. – Constantin Stanislavsky in An Actor Prepares
That sounds a lot like what we’re trying to do as writers, doesn’t it? Do yourself a favor and buy this book! It’s chock full of great exercises that will help you think like your character.
Many thanks to the fabulous Trish Lawrence for recommending this book at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI Fall Conference. It’s pure gold for digging deep into everything from your characters’ motivations to the quirks and habits that define their “onstage” presence.
Are you going to try any of the “character date” ideas above? Which one(s) appeal to you the most? Please share in the comments!