There's a blog hop going around on meeting your main characters, and I was tagged by Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Instead of talking about characters in my current WIP, I thought it would be fun to turn the hop into a writing exercise anyone could do.
These are quick questions to pinpoint important elements of a character, whether they're the protagonist or a smaller character you want to add a little depth to. They can be used to help create a character from scratch, or to refine one during revisions once you know how that character reacts to the situations you throw them into.
1. What is name of your character--and how does she feel about that name?
Names can tell a lot about a character, from what era they live in to their nationality. But how someone feels about her name can say a lot about her personality. Does she like her name or go by a nickname? Is it a family name she's proud of? Does she feel it suits her or is it the opposite of her personality? Does she feel it's something she has to live up to or live down?
(Here's more on naming characters)
2. When and where is the story set--and how does the character feel about living there?
Entire novels have been written about characters unhappy with where they live, so how someone feels about the setting can be a very big deal for the story. Does she want to leave? Stay? Does she like certain parts and fear others? What memories or events in the past might have caused these emotions? Is she typical of the people of this setting or an outcast?
(Here's more on how the setting can affect your characters)
3. What should readers know about her?
Every character has something about them that earns them their place in the novel. It might be a special ability, a skill, a bit of knowledge, or even a secret. This could be the defining characteristic of that character.
(Here's more on character creation)
4. What is the main conflict—what messes up her life?
Without conflict there's nothing for the character to do and no reason for her to act. If she's there, she's dealing with something. This conflict will be connected to the core conflict, and the issue the book (and the character) is trying to resolve the entire novel.
(Here's more on creating conflict)
5. What is her personal goal?
No matter how interesting a character might be, if she has nothing she wants the story will wither and die. It's the quest for that goal that gets the story going and keeps it moving. Even small characters can have goals, and those goals can be used to cause trouble for the protagonist or flesh out a subplot.
(Here's more on goals and motivations)
One of the things I like about these questions is that they focus on the core elements needed for a successful story. If you find you can't answer some of these, that likely means there are still pieces missing from the overall story. If you're an planner, those are questions you might want to answer before you start writing. For pantsers, those might be areas you explore as you write to discover those answers.
For those with finished novels--these are all common elements of a query letter, and can help you develop your pitch when you're ready to start submitting.
Tag--You're It! Share a character from your story, published or a WIP. What is name of your character? When and where is the story set? What should readers know about her? What is the main conflict—what messes up her life? What is her personal goal?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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