Getting to know your character is sort of like going on a blind date. You’ve heard great things, but until you meet, it’s pretty difficult to know just what you’re getting. If you’re lucky, the two of you will hit it off right away. But more often than not, it takes a while longer to develop a sense of trust between you and your character.
There are several exercises out there to help break the ice between the two of you. Many writers simply start by filling out a questionnaire, listing everything from the character’s hair color to his/her favorite meal. These are good for getting down the essentials, but in order to figure out character motivation, I’ve always found it more beneficial to sit my character down and ask the “meaty” questions.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- The most painful thing a friend could say about me is _______.
- Once when I was alone in an elevator I _________.
- Three things I wish I’d never said are __________.
- I love the taste of ___________.
- I’m willing to fight for ________.
- I once caught _________.
- One Thanksgiving I __________.
- I’ve always wanted to go to _________ because _________.
- My father/mother always told me ________.
- My idea of a boring day is ________.
- Three things I could never live without are __________.
- I want to be remembered for _________.
- The most embarrassing thing that ever happen to me is __________.
- My biggest regret is that _________.
- Thursday nights are good for _________.
- As a kid I was known for __________.
- When we first got married I realized _________.
- Five things you’ll find in my bathroom are ________.
- The toughest thing I’ve ever done is _________.
- My favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon is ________.
Try to write out as much detail as you can when answering these questions. If these questions don’t work for you, feel free to jot down your own. The point of this exercise is to get your characters talking. Their responses may or may not factor into your final story; however, by the end you ought to have a more well-rounded idea of what makes your characters tick.
As an added bonus, this exercise can also be helpful when you’re having trouble getting started on something new because it gives you a chance to let go of the inner critic while you sit back and listen to what your character has to say for him/herself. You never know where the conversation might take you.