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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Knowing Your Characters

Before you plunge into writing a novel, it's a good idea to get acquainted with the stars of your story. You may have a general idea, a sorta, kinda, vague idea of who your characters are, but you might not know them well enough. Do you know what they stuff in their pockets, how they chew their gum, what really ticks them off, and what soap they use in the shower? Do you know what stores they shop in, the clothes they wear, and where they hide their secret stash of money?

What's under your protagonist's bed, in the backseat of her car, and under her pillow? What does she feed her cat, drink at the party, and make for the potluck dinner? How often does she call her mother? What's her entire name? What does her best friend call her? For example, your protagonist might be named Kathleen Louise Finnegan. Her mother calls her Kathleen, her father calls her Kate, her sister calls her Kathy, her brother calls her K.L., and her lover calls her Kay. How did her mother treat her as a child? Her father? What grades did she get on her ninth grade report card? How did she lose her virginity? Who has she betrayed?

What does she want more than anything else and what is she willing to do to get it?

You really need to know your protagonist as well as you know yourself and she must act "in character" to the conflict she encounters. For example, if you've established that she has a fear of commitment due to a childhood where she ed abandoned by her father, you're not going to have her fall head over heels in love immediately. If she can't swim and has a fear of water, you're not going to write scene where she dives into a pool to rescue a drowning child. That would be out of character.

Knowing your protagonist is only half the preparation. You must know the antagonist and hid backstory as well. What motivates him and makes him tick? What's on his computer desktop? What's his cell phone ring? Well, you get the idea.

There are several ways to get to know your characters better: 1) Ask them questions and listen to what they tell you 2) Have them write in your journal. In other words, journal as your character. 3} Have them write letters to one another. 4) Describe the way they celebrate their birthdays or Christmas or what they do on Sunday afternoons. 5) Describe their dreams. 6} Look at their family tree. 7? Check their horoscopes. 8) Let them tell you about their most embarrassing moments, their gnawing guilts, their sins. 9) How do they make love, keep a house, drive a car, do their laundry, treat an animal? 10) How do they talk?

Knowing your characters well before you begin writing the novel will enable the stars on your page-stage play their rolls better.

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