Chasing Inspiration

Monday, February 09, 2009

Getting To Know Your Characters

One of my side jobs is relationship coaching. It's a passion of mine and one of the reasons I earned a master's degree in counseling psychology. I love working with people who are in relationships to help them deepen and grow those relationships. Small wonder I love to read and write romantic fiction, huh?

I was writing up my notes from one of my sessions and I had one of those Duh! moments. I coach my clients through blocks to their relationships. We work out scenarios and discuss options and causes and triggers. And on a subconscious level I do that with my characters.

If I told you I sat down and coached my characters, you would think I was taking my work a bit too far, wouldn't you? Since my characters aren't living and breathing entities and exist only in my head and on paper, I don't actually sit down with them, but I do interview them. I ask them what they do in certain situations, how they react to certain things. I ask the hard questions - what do they fear, what do they love, how far would they go to protect the things/people most precious to them. And while I ask these questions I get insight into their character, into what makes them tick.

For me this is better than creating character worksheets, at least in the initial stages of writing. Character worksheets are important to get the details down about the character, but by questioning their values, motivation and behavior, I see deeper into the character and the character starts to become real to me and writing that character becomes easier. I won't say effortless because writing is seldom that. At least it isn't effortless to me. It's hard work and some days I feel like pulling my hair out and being done with the whole thing. But at least I have an understanding about the core of the character and it becomes easier to stay true to the character's faults, strengths and foibles. And I hope, it makes the character more believable.

If you write, try this sometime. Sit down with a comforting beverage, a notebook and imagine you are conversing with your characters. Ask them the hard questions that probe deep into their psyches and ask them how they would react to certain situations. Ask then what brings them joy and what makes them cry. Ask them what is the most precious thing in the world to them. I guarantee the information you glean from these conversations will make finding their Goal, Motivation and Conflict so much easier and it will allow you to stay true to the heart of the people you are writing about.

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