Last week, I discussed this TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and how I thought her observations about a “single story,” were of importance to the writing community if we want to keep our characters from seeming one-dimensional. Everyone has a story to tell, even the people we make up. My favorite way to find out my characters’ stories is by answering questions from The 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character by Beth Kinderman and Nikki Walker. Today, I will share a few of their questions with you, and explain why I think each one is so helpful and important when it comes to bringing characters to life. Let’s get started!
Who are/were your parents? (Know their names, occupations, personalities, etc.)
Especially with my current work in progress (WIP), learning the background, occupation, and backstories of my main character’s (MC’s) parents helped me to figure out some of the conflicts in the fictional society I’ve created, and thus gave me ideas for tension and possible obstacles for the MC to face. Knowing the parents/guardians or any other authoritative figures in the MC’s life is almost as important as knowing the MC, in my opinion, because a lot of our personalities are determined by the lifestyles and relationships we had when we were young. Even if your MC doesn’t have parents who are very present, or the parents don’t play a large part in the story, that in and of itself should tell you something about the way the character might behave.
Write a full physical description of yourself. You might want to consider factors such as: height, weight, race, hair and eye color, style of dress, and any tattoos, scars, or distinguishing marks.
This question may seem obvious, but the first time I tried to write a book, I didn’t place any importance on things like scars, tattoos, marks, etc. that my character may have had, and I feel like that was a real missed opportunity. Most significant markings have backstories (bicycle accident, fight, surgery etc.) or traditions that come with them. The small details can really add a lot to the depth of your character even if all of the stories don’t make it on page. Thinking about things like that gives me a more complete picture of the characters’ lifestyle up until the start of the story.
What words and/or phrases do you use very frequently?
Do you have any quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics?
Everyone’s voice sounds different. We all have distinct vocabularies and our own habits. I stick my tongue out when I concentrate, for example, and I catch myself saying “like” a lot when I talk. I’m also constantly fiddling with something, especially when I’m nervous. It’s the smallest things that make characters seem the most human, both to the author and the reader.
What do you have in your pockets?
This is one of my favorite questions on the sheet because even though it’s a bit random, I think what a person keeps in their pockets or in their purse can tell you a lot about them. The best friend of my protagonist, for example, always carries a dagger and a small satchel of healing herbs. Her training as a… soldier, of sorts, in the society has taught her to always be prepared.
Each question adds another layer of background to your character. I like this method because it starts basic and works up to the bigger, harder to define aspects. It also keeps me from creating perfect characters with no flaws, thus making them more relatable (I hope) and easier to write. Some of the later questions in the sheet include:
What is your earliest memory?
Where did you learn most of your skills and other abilities?
While growing up, did you have any role models? If so, describe them.
If you are a supernatural being (i.e. mage, werewolf, vampire), tell the story of how you became what you are or first learned of your own abilities. If you are just a normal human, describe any influences in your past that led you to do the things you do today.
What do you consider the most important event of your life so far?
If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be, and why?
What is your best memory?
What is your worst memory?
What is your greatest fear?
To see the full list, follow the link at the top of the post, or click HERE.
Challenge of the Week: How do you create your characters?