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 …
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!