Getting to Know Your Characters

What time do you get up in the morning? What do you have for breakfast, and do you eat it while watching TV, listening to the radio, making conversation, or rubbing your eyes blearily and hoping the spoon is going somewhere near your mouth?

I’m sure you could answer these questions for yourself – and your partner/kids/household – in seconds. (For me, it’d be 7.00-7.30am (or whenever my toddler decides it’s morning), shredded wheat (urgh, diets), and TV mixed with bleary eyes.) This type of Q&A can tell you a lot about a person, and there are plenty of online personality quizzes and ‘Which popular soap/film/cartoon character are you?’ quizzes which would testify to that. ‘Answer these 10 questions about your favourite foods, holidays and films, and we’ll tell you which Disney Princess you are at heart,’ and so on.

So, when I start thinking about a character, their daily routine and everyday preferences seem like a good place to start. Are they morning people? Faced with a choice between a romantic meal with their partner or a trip with friends to the cinema to see the latest action movie, what would they opt for?

‘But why is it so important?’ I hear you say. Does it really matter what my protagonist had on her toast this morning? Probably not, but it helps. The more you know about your characters, the more able you will feel to write about their decisions, both big and small. It might not seem all that important to know that Mrs Smith hates getting up before 9am, but you can bet your bottom dollar that your future readers will notice if she’s springing out of bed at dawn in Chapter 7. The little details help to build up a believable, 3D character.

‘Who are YOU writing about?’ I hear you ask now. Good question.

I think it’s about time I shared a few details about the protagonist of my ‘Three Month Novel’. I have been deliberately vague on the subject so far in case I changed my direction, but now (on the verge of 30,000 words) I am beginning to feel a little confidence in the characters I’m shaping out, so here goes …

Meet Holly.

Here are a few facts about her. Think of them as rules by which she lives her life.

– To-do lists are the only way to survive everyday life.

– Fruit pastilles and sweet cups of tea are good for stress.

– Family = arguments and hurt feelings.

– Mornings = urgh.

– Ghosts and premonitions are real.

There you go. You’ve got an image of her already, haven’t you? It’s amazing how much information a handful of statements can provide about a person, and how helpful these can be in shaping a character’s interactions, speech and decisions.

Why not try this yourself for your own characters? If you’re not a writer, try thinking of a few of the rules which you live your own life by. The answers might surprise you!

Where do you start when you’re writing about a character? Have you ever tried making a list of ‘rules’ like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

4 thoughts on “Getting to Know Your Characters

  1. Hi Kerrie, Great blog post! I enjoyed learning more about Holly, and I can begin to build up a good picture of her based on the details you’ve given. I agree, writers need to know a lot more about their characters than actually goes into their stories. Getting the details right can make all the difference between a believable character and one who disrupts the reader’s suspension of disbelief. I look forward to reading your novel when it is finished. It sounds like you are doing fantastically with it! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kendra, that’s really kind! I am slightly “paused” on the writing this weekend as I have become a little tangled up with the storyline – I’m trying to get that straight before I plough on!! Hope your portfolio writing is coming along well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the luck Kendra! I do have a rough timeline but I’ll have to get it clearer – it definitely helps. What I am unsure of at the moment is how many characters to run with – I’d started off intending to split the story between 3, but now I am beginning to think that there is enough “story” with the main character (Holly) to stick with her and just do occasional sidelines with the others. Ah, decisions! Yes I’ll definitely be sharing some but probably not until I reach the end of the first draft. I’ll let you know when I’m on the lookout for readers! πŸ™‚


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