I discovered a new writer’s chat on Twitter this week called #storycraft. It’s a chat dedicated to the discussion of various aspects of story craft and takes place Sunday 6-8pm (US Eastern time)/ Monday 8-10am (Australian EST). The topic for this week was about fleshing out characters so they are 3D and not flat cardboard cutouts, or worse, the dreaded Mary-Sue. A Mary-Sue character is one who is perfect in every way, beautiful, smart, loved by everyone… and boring because she has no flaws or quirks. The male equivalent is usually referred to as a Gary-Stu. If you want to test if your character is a Mary Sue there are many Mary-Sue litmus tests available online, here’s one you can try: The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test. It’s one of the most comprehensive ones I’ve come across.
One thing I do to ensure I have a 3D character is to do character profiles and character interviews before I start writing. By doing this I can ensure my characters are well rounded and well developed before I start writing them. It also helps me get inside their heads because I know how they will react to certain situations. My character profiles consist of basic background info: Full name; age; hometown; family; main strengths; and main weaknesses (it’s just as important to have weaknesses as strengths; real people have flaws, and so should your character).
For the character interviews I have a list of questions relating to different aspects of my character’s life and I answer them from the POV of my character. Here are some of the questions I ask (*note: I may not necessarily use the answers or background information in the story itself, it’s just a way to flesh out my characters in my head so I can find their unique voice):
Describe your family. (This is not just a list of the members of your character’s family, but how they would describe them.)
If your house was on fire and you could only grab 3 things, what would they be? (Shows what is important to your character.)
Are you religious at all, and if so, in what way?
What kind of music do you listen to, and why?
What’s the last thing you’d be caught doing?
What has been the best experience of your life so far? (I answer this one as the best experience of my character’s life prior to the beginning of the story, but you could also answer it in relation to the story too)
What has been the worst day of your life? (As before, I answer what it would have been prior to the beginning of the story, but you can answer in relation to the story)
Describe the kind of person you want to marry, if you want to be married at all.
If you go to school, what is your favourite subject, and why?
Sum yourself up in 5 words.
You can add as many questions to your interview as you want, you can include questions about friends, goals, dreams, work, etc. It’s up to you, just make sure they serve to add depth to your character and tell you who your character really is.
Do you have any questions you ask of your characters? What do you do to get to know your character before writing your story? Or do you just jump in and discover your character along the way?