My stories almost always begin in my mind with a tiny flash of a scene. Sometimes it will be an actual scene – I was walking through an almost deserted parking lot one very foggy evening, noticing how the street lamps played in the fog, and all of a sudden there was a man, crouching between the cars, trying to find one that was unlocked, because he was shot…yeah, that’s it…and the shooter was still after him, because he had witnessed a murder, and… Well, you know what I mean.
So I have a snippet of a scene and at least one character. Next step? Well, for me, it’s always figuring out who that character is. Before I can think about plot (and I am a plotter) I have to know my starting character; who may not even end up being my main character.
But how do I get to know this character?
I’m a pack rat. I tend to save things, anything I think will come in handy. This includes tossing interesting blogs into a Favorites folder to re-visit later. I took a look in that folder yesterday and found over a dozen blogs written about knowing your character.
Distilling them down, here are the most common methods:
Interview your character – sit down over an imaginary cup of coffee and ask them everything you want to know
Develop a detailed character history (even if little, if any, will be included in your story) - include parents, siblings, home town, childhood, education, early loves, traumatic events, dreams and plans, etc.
Write a detailed character sketch (again, go beyond what will be included in your story) – physical description, personality traits, friends, habits (including little quirks), attitudes, passions, fears, etc. I added music and sports to my list.
What I found interesting was no one suggested using faith, politics, or current social issues. I wouldn’t recommend including your character’s stand on a really divisive current social issue (unless it’s germane to your story and/or you want to alienate some potential readers) but wouldn’t it help you understand the character to know where he/she would stand and why? The same would be true of faith/religious beliefs and political leanings. Would your character have the same stands/beliefs as you? Why or why not? Answering some of these questions could really help you get inside a character.
How about you? How do you get to know your characters?
I'm currently enjoying: One Was a Soldier by Julie Spencer-Fleming
Groaner of the day: No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.