The best writers know that it’s essential to really know your characters. Their background. Tastes. Their fears. Everything that makes them human. I’m compiling a list of strategies to help you really get to know the people you write about.
Bookmark this page as I plan to update it frequently.
Strategies to get to know your characters
1. Put your protagonist/antagonist on trial
Goal: To discover aspects of your character’s life that are not related to your plot.
- Accuse your character of a crime that, preferably, isn’t related to your plot.
- Pretend you’re the prosecution and create 1-5 questions that will land your character in jail… or worse.
- Answer the questions about your character that you’ve written.
- Flip it around, pretending that you’re the defense. Write 1-5 questions and then answer them. You’ll end up with a better picture of your character.
Why: Writers have a “fixed” mentality, which tends to make our characters fit our plot rather than our plot fit our characters. By thinking about hypothetical situations that are not directly related to the plot, the writer’s brain is forced to think abstractly, which can make your character more “3D”.
In the Shadow of Your Wings features a wide cast of characters foremost of whom is Leila, a German spy who falls in love with a British soldier.
Let’s imagine that Leila was caught and arrested by the British government.
Here are sample questions from the prosecution:
- What was your occupation before you turned to a life of espionage?
- You spied on the European continent before the war, didn’t you? In Belgium?
- Describe your family in detail. Did any of them serve the German government?
Here are sample questions from the defense:
- Leila, tell us about your childhood, education and religious upbringing. Did you go to church often?
- How old were you when your parents died or are they still alive?
- I understand you were married but your previous husband died in Germany before the war. What was your life with your husband like?