Exercise 1: Interviews
One of my favorite ways to get to know my character is to interview them as one would a celebrity. The interview can be general, just asking about their life, likes, pet peeves, etc. or it can be prior to or after a significant event (i.e. just saved the world, just won the World Cup, recently defeated by protagonist, etc.).
Here's a list of interesting things to ask your character:
- Do you have any pet peeves?
- What do you think of [insert character here]'s opinion on you?
- Painful memories?
- What do you do on a typical Friday night?
- Where did you grow up?
- Strong memories?
- Personal quote / motto?
- What about your love life?
- What do you think of current events? (In our world)
- Religious and/or superstitious?
- Phobias / fears / weaknesses?
- Habits? (Nervous habits, bad habits, good habits, daily habits )
- Desires / dreams?
When doing the interview, remember to write your characters response in their voice, the way they would say it. If you know your character to be a sarcastic person, their answers will likely reflect their personality and be sarcastic too.
And remember: you can always do more than one interview!
Exercise 2: Goals
An active character has goals or desires that drive them and the story along while a passive character allows the world to toss them around without acting against it. In most stories, you'll want an active character who'll push the plot along and compel the audience to continue watching/reading.
A well-known example of an active character is Harry Potter in the novels by J.K. Rowling. Harry doesn't just sit around trying to avoid Voldemort, he acts of his own will, tracking down Horcruxes, destroying them, and eventually defeating the Dark Lord himself.
For your character, figure out their goals and desires. What drives them throughout your plot? Is it intense love, or a longing for the truth?
Below I have several questions to be answered.
- What is your characters conscious desire?
- What is their unconscious desire?
- What is their goal in the story?
- What will happen if their goal in not achieved?
- What will happen if their goal is achieved?
- Will it be best for them to reach their goal, or miss it?
A conscious desire is a longing your character may be aware of, such as a girl wanting a boy. An unconscious desire is a want your character is not aware of. For example: the girl may want the boy because she feels insecure and forgotten and longs to be loved in return.
A goal is simple enough, and often it may be the same as a conscious desire. Building on the earlier example: the girl wants the boy.
The last three questions above can be the most entertaining and challenging to answer. At times, they've even been the inspiration to a plot of mine. If your character does or doesn't achieve their goal, what will happen? Will the world be destroyed? Will the princess be forever lonely? And depending upon whether or not their goal is the right thing for them, would it be best for them to fail in their quest?
Say a boy is out for revenge. He has good reasons, but the fundamental truth is that revenge is wrong. Throughout the story, it's his goal to avenge a wrongdoing, but when the climax arrives, and he has the offender at his mercy, he has to ask himself: is this what I really want? Is it right? Am I this type of person? If this boy fails and does not achieve his goal, will it be for the best? If he walks away, will it reflect his personality and the fact that he does the right thing, not the impulsive thing?
Exercise 3: Opinions
Much like Exercise 1, in this Exercise you will interview other characters on the character you interviewed earlier. These interviews can be much shorter, and focus on the characters opinion of the other character.
- What is your relationship with [insert character name here]?
- Do you see them often?
- What do they look like?
- What is your opinion on their recent actions?
You can always ask more questions, but these are a good place to start. Characters' opinions of other people govern how they interact with each other, and knowing these opinions straight out helps in writing the story and getting to know your character from every angle.
Exercise 4: Summaries
- Sum up your character in a paragraph.
- Based on your paragraph, sum up your character in a sentence.
- Based on your sentence, sum up your character in a single word.
I always enjoy the summaries part. For one character, you can do this Exercise as many times as you want with as much variation as you like. It's a simple way to easily explain your character, and when you're stuck on a delayed airplane, a good way to pass time.
Exercise 5: Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. A plot often begins with a mistake and the character(s) that committed it. Write a letter in your characters point of view explaining and apologizing for the biggest mistake they ever made. The letter can be addressed to anyone, real, alive, dead, fake, family, friends, enemies, authorities, whoever happens across it on a park bench at midnight
Now, a big mistake can seem small to others, so it really doesn't matter if it relates to your plot or not, it allows you to delve into the mind of your character.
The Question Mark
Over the years I've come to notice that I create my characters by asking questions. After a quick look over several guides I've written on the subject, I've realized I also ask my readers to develop their characters the same way. I am by no means an expert in anything related to creative writing, just a person who enjoys it, but I encourage everyone making characters to ask questions like the great Greek philosophers long ago. The question mark is a strong marking, prompting people to expand their views and formulate ideas.
I hope my little hooked friend can help my readers create the perfect imperfect character. I bid thee glad tidings and good luck!