Things I Ask My Characters

It’s important to grasp the whole of any character you’re writing. You, as the author, should know your characters better than anyone — even the readers. An author notices every quirk, step, and glance a character ever makes. After all, the author is the sole creator: the god.

As I’m developing my my characters, I like to pretend I’m a confidant. Here are some questions I ask my characters:

General:

1. What is your birthday?

2. What is your full name?

3. Who is your immediate family?

4. How would you describe your physical appearance? Note: how a character describes his/herself may differ from their actual appearance. As the author, it is important to understand this difference, if it applies.

Background:

1. Where did you grow up?

2. What type of person were you in high school? What was your main goal (grades, sports, etc.)?

3. What did you do after high school?

4. How did your guardian(s) raise you?

5. Growing up, what was a normal day in your household?

6. How did you and your family get along?

Current:

1. Where do you live now? Do you enjoy where you’re living?

2. How are you and your family getting along? Any issues?

3. What is your occupation? How do you like where you’re working?

4. Do you have any friends?

5. Are you in a relationship? Have your eye on anyone?

6. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?

Quirks/personal:

1. Do you follow any religion?

2. Are you right or left handed?

3. Do you have an accent or speech impediment? Furthermore, do people treat you differently because of it?

4. Any health problems?

5. Any habits? Any you’d like to break?

6. How is your driving? Note: I find a character’s driving to be incredibly telling about their personality, especially what a character does while driving. Is she always applying mascara in the mirror? Is he yelling into a phone, speeding and swerving? Is he eating a Big Mac, a jug of Pepsi in the cup holder?

7. What is your favorite food/drink? Any foods you absolutely despise?

8. Where do you shop (clothes, groceries, hardware, etc.)?

9. What are you most likely to order at a restaurant? Note: I like to ask this question every time my character dines with someone (whether that be a date, their proper Auntie, an older sister, or a chill cousin).

10. What does a normal day look like?

I find answering these questions to be a fun way to jump into a new novel, or even a great exercise to do while in the middle of a edit (it gets the creative side of the brain working, and my also help you add depth to your characters). Many times I won’t follow the exact questions above, but just start writing about a character. Below I have some examples with a few of my current characters in “Sun Protection Factor.”

Margo Logan Trand

21-24 years

Morning: Gets up steadily. Has time to simply think, look out window. Will sip a drink instead of having breakfast. Doesn’t read newspaper, but just sits in calm, pure silence. Maybe calls sister.

Night: Takes a long shower, falls into bed. Maybe calls family, does homework or works on writing her book.

Snacking habits: Doesn’t ever get up at night to eat, maybe snacks on some strawberries while waiting in the car. Sticks normally to light meals. May sneak a handful of a snack from her sister.

Guilty of: A glance at Dominic, a stare up at the clouds, a sweep of her sister, an assessment to see if her Aunt’s smiling proud of her or not.

Websites: She used to like Pinterest, she was interested in how happy people seemed on Instagram

Margo’s never been like the other girls that take their phones out when waiting for anything. She doesn’t sit at a coffee shop staring at her phone, though perhaps she is to delete some pictures her sister took of herself when she stole Margo’s phone. Walking along the sidewalk she may glance up then lower her head at a girl who she think looks better than her. She doesn’t wear many skirts — only to work.

Dominic Jacob Clement

23-26 years

Morning: Gets up swiftly. Eats a small but full breakfast – no coffee (instead something more nutritious). Doesn’t listen to music, maybe picks up a book to read for a little while. Showers and aims to dress sharp.

Night: Thinks about things. Stays up late. Gets ready for bed mechanically

Snacks: Doesn’t snack — only eats meals. May get up at night for a drink (non alcoholic) at a dark kitchen table.

Guilty of: Staring at Margo, faltering in his confidant appearance, feeling like an outsider with no hope of ever getting back in. 

Websites: Dominic is always very focused in everything he does and not much distracts him — except Margo

Dominic will rustle his hair, fix his collar, and smooth his clothes when waiting. He’ll crunch a mint between his teeth before he meets a new person, though only has a few colors of ties at home. He believes that he can know almost exactly what type of person you are within ten minutes of first meeting you.

Dominic is the type to own only one type of cologne, and shops at the same, smaller store every other week.  

Hue Files

Lower eighties

Morning: Wakes without a smile, but looks solemnly out at the world. Has a drawer of just socks. Has a cup of coffee. Sits at a table sipping his coffee reading the newspaper. A crooked smile will warm up to his face once he sees hope.

Night: Goes to bed early.

Snacks: Would be one to eat all the peanuts on a airplane ride. Likes Almond Joy and raisin-oatmeal cookies. 

Guilty of: Hue sees the hope, and that makes him smile

Websites: Hue isn’t really a modern tech guy. He’s old school, but isn’t bitter about new technology (leaving it for the young people, claiming he’s fine with an old flip phone). 

Hue believes the younger generations hold the key to a successful world, and is content to poke-fun at them, confidant that the world doesn’t need him anymore.

As I’ve done above, sometimes the best thing to do is write out what an average day would look like for a character. At times I’ll map out multiple days of a character, mirroring the character’s development throughout the story (one right before the book begins, a few during, and one after the book ends). Writing out what a character’s day would look like before the book begins is helpful in introducing your characters in the exposition, and helps set the mood (especially if in first or third-person limited). Writing multiple during the story aids in nailing-down what changes the character is going through, and how to proceed with further development and plot. As mentioned before, writing a few days during the book is a good way to add depth while revising. Finally, writing about what a character’s life would be like after the story pilots the resolution. Piecing together how the book spits them out allows you to figure out how best to portray their total changes to the readers, and craft a satisfying ending that encompasses the character’s journey.

 

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2 thoughts on “Things I Ask My Characters

  1. Paul says:

    I have to say it. I’ve gotten to the point where I have trouble opening my WD magazine because I’m tired of all the writerly advice that looks good at first sight, but ultimately cannot be followed.
    This post, on the other hand, is WONDERFUL. I’ve seen, as have many other writers, similar approaches to “understanding one’s characters,” but this is one of the most sensible I’ve come across…and I’m going to follow your advice. It’s a great idea. I use Scapple to outline character relationships to each other and note basic character traits but nothing like this. I really like the “average day” approach for each character, main and secondary.

    Thank you so much, Samantha, for sharing. 🙂

    Like

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