Tag Archives: character interview

Writing a Novel – Character Profiles

Welcome to the first post in my Writing a Novel series. Today we will be looking at character profiles.

Usually when I am embarking on a new novel, I plot first, then do character profiles. This time around, my characters, specifically my main character, have been clamouring to be heard. My plot, at this point, is still not completely clear in my head, but the characters already have very strong voices. So this time around I am starting off with character profiles (and hoping once I know them and their motivations a bit better, the plot will become more clear).

Simple Bios

A few years ago I discovered ywriter and one of the great features is that you can include character bios (which can be as detailed as you want), including their goals. There is even a tab for including a picture!

ywriter character profile

I spent far too much time searching Google images for pictures that fit my character descriptions, but it really made me think about how my characters look and even helped me develop their personalities (of course Nyssa has to be smiling in her picture, because she is such a positive, happy character). The Mac equivalent to ywriter is Scrivener, though I’ve never used it, so I’m not sure if it has a similar feature.

For the bio, I kept it simple at this stage. I included age, physical features, family, personality traits (both positive and negative) and goals. You can see an example of a character bio on the post NaNoWriMo — Character Outline.

Character Interview

With the character’s basic personality now in mind, it’s time to delve deeper. I like to do character interviews with the main characters to really bring the characters to life. In my post, Creating 3D Characters: The Character Interview, I talk about this more in-depth and provide some examples of questions to ask that really get to the heart of your character. And in my post, NaNoWriMo — Character Outline I show how these questions might be answered (using Harry Potter as an example).

Visualising Your Character

There are so many fun, creative ways to do this. Here are a few of my favourites:

A character collage. Write your character’s name at the top of a piece of blank paper and grab a heap of old magazines, some scissors and some glue. Cut out things that would suit your character and stick them on the paper. Does your character have brown hair? Cut out a actress with brown hair. Does your character love music? Cut out a picture of an ipod. Does you character wear jeans? Does your character love animals? Is your character a doctor?

charactercollage

Sketch. Blank paper + pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re not very good at drawing, you’re the only one who will see it. Add labels, eg: ‘blue eyes’, ‘sword’, ‘permanent smirk’. Make it more than just a picture to show what they look like, let their personality and the setting of the novel shine through, too.

Powerpoint. This is especially good if you have several main characters. On each slide find a picture to represent how you imagine your character to look, then accompany with dot points that describe your character’s personality.

So is it really necessary to make such an in-depth profile of your character before you begin writing your novel? It’s really up to the author. For me, I find having looked at my characters in such an in-depth way before I begin I am able to really immerse myself in my character’s head as I write and their voices come across more naturally. Also, I don’t have to flick back to page seven to remember what eye colour my MC has or to page fifty to remember if my MC’s best friend has two sisters or three, because I know them so well (or if I really have forgotten, it’s much easier to just refer back to my character profile, than find where I mentioned it).

What do you do to develop your characters before you begin writing? Or do you just jump right in and let them develop as you write?

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NaNoWriMo – Character Outline

In my last blog post when I was talking about preparing for NaNoWriMo I mentioned character bios. This week I’m going to go into character bios in-depth. I find writing outlines or bios for my main characters helps me get a good feel for my character before I start writing and I find I can slip into their voices much easier. These are some of the ways I prepare my characters:

Harry Potter

1. Character Biography/Outline Sheet

This is a page (or pages) of information/facts about my character. This is where I take a vague idea in my head and start nutting out the details of who my character is. I’m going to use the character of Harry Potter as an example to show you how I set out my character bio sheet.

Name: Harry James Potter (if my character goes by a nickname I include it here too)

Age: 11 years, born 30th July

Nationality: British

Physical features: Dark, messy hair that always sticks up at the back; green eyes; wears cousin’s oversized hand-me-down clothes; wears glasses; skinny and scrawny.

Personality: brave, curious, loyal, kind, quick-tempered, fair-minded

Family: Lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died when he was a baby (killed by dark wizard, but he believes they were killed in car crash). They are a middle class family and live in a three bedroom home. Uncle works for a drilling company. Harry is treated badly by all members of the household and his bedroom is the cupboard under the stairs.

Strengths: humble, kind to others, willing to fight for what’s right

Weaknesses: quick temper, disregard for rules, curiosity that leads him into trouble

Power: Wizard (I include this one for my fantasy novels)

I may add more bits and pieces to this as I write, for example I may come back and include his address 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging. Character sheets are a good way to keep track of details as you write so you don’t end up with character inconsistencies (eg: he has green eyes in chapter one, but blue eyes in chapter twelve).

2. Character Interview

While the character sheet gives a basic overview of the character, and interview goes more in-depth. During the interview have your character answer in their own voice. This is a good way to develop your character’s voice. These are some of the interview questions I use (and I’ll use Harry Potter as an example again).
Describe your family. Parents, siblings, pets, alive, dead…

My mum and dad died when I was a baby, so I live with my mother’s sister, my aunt Petunia, and her husband, my uncle Vernon. I’m basically fungus between their toes. They dote on my cousin Dudley. He’s a spoilt brat and about as wide as two houses. Bullying me is his favourite sport. I don’t have any pets, aunt Petunia thinks animals are too dirty to be allowed.

If your house was on fire and you only had time to grab three things, what would they be?

I don’t really have anything worth grabbing, all my stuff is hand-me-downs from my cousin Dudley and it’s all rubbish.

Are you religious at all, and if so, in what way?

No. Although aunt Petunia makes us all go to church on Sunday at the local Anglican.

What is your race/social status?

I’m caucasian. I suppose you could say we’re middle class, although aunt Petunia likes to think we’re upper class.

If you are at school, do you think you fit in? If not, why? (For an adult character you can exchange school for work)

No I don’t. Dudley always made sure of that. He bullies me daily with his group of thugs. No one dares make friends with me because they’re too scared of Dudley and his gang.

What is the one thing you care about most in the world?

I don’t really have anything or anyone. I know I should say my aunt Petunia, but I doubt she cares about me. I wish I had a photograph of my parents.

If you had to spend the rest of your life doing one thing only, what would it be?

Living as far away from the Dursleys as possible.

What’s the last thing you’d be caught doing?

Bullying others

What was the best experience of your life, and why?

Probably when my parents were still alive, but I can’t really remember. I have this vague memory of this woman smiling at me, but I don’t know if it’s real or not.

What was the worst day of your life?

The day Dudley and his gang chased me into a stinging nettle bush. Uncle Vernon wouldn’t even let me put cream on the stings because he said it served me right not looking where I was going.

Describe the sort of person you’d want to marry, if you married at all.

Someone kind and who loves me for me.

What do you look for in a friend?

Someone who actually wants to hang around with me and who is a decent person (I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who is mean to others).

If you go to school, what are your favourite and least favourite school subjects, and why? (For an adult character you can change this to work duties)

My favourite subject is sport, mostly because I know I can always outrun Dudley. My least favourite is art, because Dudley and his mates flick paint and bits of dried clay at me when the teacher’s back is turned.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Anywhere that isn’t Little Whinging. I’d like to find out where my parents lived and go there.

Sum yourself up in five words. (You can also ask how they would sum up other main characters in the story)

skinny, orphan, friendless, independent, smart

You might have noticed I answered the questions from the perspective of Harry as he would answer prior to the events of the books. You could also do an interview of how your character would answer during the events of the story, obviously Harry would answer differently once he’d started at Hogwarts, had made some friends and was away from the Dursleys. Here’s an exercise to try: Answer these questions from Harry’s perspective after he starts Hogwarts (or if you haven’t read Harry Potter chose a character from another book).

3. Character Picture.

A character picture helps give you a solid image of what your character looks like. Here are some of the methods I use:

Sketch – I’m not a great artist, but sometimes I like to grab a pencil and sketch out what my character looks like. What would he/she wear? What hair colour/length does he/she have? What colour eyes?

Sims – This is one of my favourite methods, especially with the more recent versions of Sims, because there are a lot of options for creating your character’s physical appearance. You can adjust skin tone, eye colour, hair style, build, clothes style, even nose and mouth shape. You can also choose your character’s personality (and in Sims 3 you can also choose life goals). When I’m done creating my character I print screen and save the picture. If you don’t have Sims, there are various sites around with ‘dolls’ you can design to look like your characters (although the problem with many of these is they don’t often have male dolls).

Character from my wip
Combined collage of four main characters from my wip

Character Collage – For this one I grab a stack of old magazines and search for pictures relating to my character. I’ll look for people sporting the same style of clothes or hairstyle or I’ll look for objects relating to my character. For example, when doing a collage for my character Ava I’d look for pictures of people with short red hair or black clothes and pictures of ipods and phones. It’s a good way to show physical appearance and personality.

With only a week to go until NaNoWriMo begins, this week I will be focusing on my characters and getting to know them better. I’d be interested to know what other methods you use when getting to know your characters.

Writing Compelling Characters

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger

Compelling means to evoke interest, attention or admiration and that’s exactly what you want your characters to do when writing a story, whether it be a novel or a picture book. You want your character to be interesting to the reader, no one wants to read about a boring character. You want your character to grab the reader’s attention, you don’t want your reader’s attention to wander to what they are going to be cooking for dinner tomorrow night because your character has failed to grab their attention. So how can you write a compelling character?

Bring Your Character to Life

Your characters should come across as real people, fully developed with hopes, desires and flaws. A flat 2D character is not going to keep your readers glued to the page and they certainly won’t care what is going to happen to that cardboard cutout character. Some ways you can create a more realistic character:

1. Write up a character bio, including their flaws and strengths.

2. Do character interviews, ask in-depth questions that will show personality.

3. Do a character collage, cut out pictures from magazines that represent your character.

You can do all this before you start writing to have a good picture of your character in your head before you start, or do it before editing if you prefer. You don’t have to include every detail from your character bio in your story, but having it there will help form the character in your mind.

Bridget Jones

Get Inside Your Character’s Head

This applies even if you’re writing in third person. As you write, imagine yourself in your character’s position.

What would you do if you were your character?

How would your character react to certain situations?

How does your character experience the world around him/her?

This is connected to making your character realistic, but it involves delving even deeper into your character’s psyche. You want your reader to not only see your character as a real person, but to be able to connect with your character on a personal level. You want your reader to experience the same emotions as your character. By stepping into your character’s shoes as you write, the character comes across as more personal and there is a better chance your reader will find themselves inside your character’s head too.

Give Your Character a Goal

Give your character something they want to achieve and show why they want it so badly. Give them obstacles along the way to achieving the goal, make it hard for them and allow them to fail at first (there’s nothing less compelling than a character who achieves things too easily or without consequence). Your character’s goal may change along the way, and that’s OK as long as it makes sense.

Ellie Linton (Tomorrow When The War Began)

For more ideas on how to write a compelling character check out Elana Johnson’s post ‘How to Write Compelling Characters‘ where you can find links to a variety of blogs blogging on this topic.

Creating 3D Characters: The Character Interview

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?