So here are some important questions to ask yourself when you’re building a character.
Imagine this: You are a woman in labor. You are fully dilated and your contractions are coming one minute apart. One more push, you scream with the pain, and she is out. The umbilical cord is cut and she draws her first breath. She is here. Your character. From now on, you will be responsible for raising her, until she’s ready to leave home.
Trust yourself that you will know what to do. That you will make her an interesting and believable person. That you will help her become empathetic and that people will bond with her, root for her. That she will go out to the world, and those who meet her, will cheer her on and wish with all their heart that she will succeed. because if they don’t like her, they won’t read till the end.
Don’t worry, you will find out who she is. You will know what she does when people are looking, and what she does when they’re not. You will know what she’s afraid of and what makes her happy. You will know what her strongest desires are and when she is lying. And how she reacts and what she thinks. But please, let her surprise you. Because she will. And you will stare at your screen, thinking, really? You just did what?
She is a lot like you, but she will be so much more than you. If you let her, that is. So rise above your small parts and watch her grow.
And she will touch your heart.
Writing about your character will become a long process of discovery. It will take time. So be patient with her. Don’t push her. If you do, she will fake it and end up looking like a cartoon. So breathe deeply and let her lead. That’s really important.
Before you sit down to write about her for the very first time (I stand, like Hemingway), start with wonderful, love-filled sex. Conceive her, then gestate. Only after that, when you’re back on your feet with your baby in your arms, you can use the questions that I’ve listed below to help her grow. These questions are a little like a parenting book. They will not give you a baby, just answer some of your questions when you’re awake at two in the morning, baffled. And never, ever forget that she is a real, breathing, baby. Not another clone, molded on the assembly line.
So start here:
– Why do you love your character?
– What does she look like? How do her looks affect her?
– Where is she? (country, city, street, house, room)?
– What does she do?
– Where did she grow up?
– What is her secret? (one big one or many small ones, how long has she had them, how did they shape who she is)
– What do other people in your story think about her?
– What has been her life like, right up to the point when something changed? What changed? How does that change affect your character’s future prospects?
– And now for the most important question of all: What does your character want to achieve? What is the driving force that propels her through her story? (notice, it is her story, not yours)
– What obstacles prevent her from getting what she wants? These obstacles are comprised of her character traits, her situation, the people that surround her, or are in her way.
– What does she do to get what she wants?
– How does she succeed, eventually, if at all?
– What is the price that she pays in order to get what she wants?
By the time you’ve asked and answered all these questions, you will know who she is. And that she has grown and it’s time to let her stand on her own two feet. It’s time she started her own life.
That’s just the way of the world.
I’m waiting to hear from you, so don’t disappoint me. You hear?
Lots of love to all,