You’re preparing to write a book, plotting away, creating characters, and writing more notes than you will ever use. There, on one of the pages, is a clear description of your main character. Height, weight, eye color, favorite childhood memory. You have probably thought of it all. Maybe you start writing and hit a wall, maybe you notice something is wrong before that.
Who is that guy?
This wonderful character you have spent a lot of time creating doesn’t feel like yours. You know what he looks like, what he likes and doesn’t like. You know where he takes his dates, and how he prefers his pizza. You know it all.
Except maybe one thing.
Why makes all the difference. If you don’t know what makes him tick or why he does what he does, the rest doesn’t matter. What drives him? Did something happen to him growing up that has colored the way he looks at certain things today? What is his motivation? His dreams? What has shaped him to be the man he is? The whys are more important than the whats. Always.
When I have struggled with a character that in theory should be working, I have tried different things:
1. Character Questionnaires
If you haven’t tried using them, you have probably come across them. I dismissed them for years before actually trying them out – then I dismissed them again because it felt as though none of the questions really related to my characters. So I tried making my own (you can download it here), using questions that mattered to me. I have used them successfully, although I tend to forget about them when I’m actually writing. Some of the stuff I’ve written down is probably stored in my brain just from actually writing it out, so I will recommend them – at least to try out. Try mine, try others’, or better yet – make your own.
2. Character Interviews
Pretend you’re your character’s priest, shrink, or a journalist interviewing him for an article or a book. Ask questions about the best and the worst experiences he’s had, and about the impact they’ve had on him. Listen to your character’s voice when he replies and get to know him that way. You might even have fun doing it, and you’ll more than likely be surprised more than once if you let the whole thing flow as naturally as possible. Don’t try to force him to answer in a certain way. If you’re a writer, you already know that characters can take on a life on their own, and how interesting a journey that can be.
3. Free Writing
It’s perhaps my most favorite way of delving deeper into my character’s personality and finding out what makes him who he is. I did it just this morning with a character who has already been part of three books I’ve written, but in the next one he is the main character, and I realized that I don’t him well enough yet. He’s had several tantrums in the three earlier books, but since I haven’t written from his point of view, I’m not one hundred percent sure what it is that makes him so angry and why. So I opened a blank document and just started writing down what I know about him. It flowed freely from what he did to why he did it. Most of it will never make it into the book once I start writing it, but I will know it. And knowing it means that I know my character. That will show even if the details won’t.