Do You REALLY Know Your Characters?

Joss Whedon quote

It’s a good question, isn’t it? Do you really know your character?

I feel like I know some of my characters inside and out, but I guess there’s only one way to find out. I’ve never been one of those people to map out everything about my characters before I write about them. I sort of get to know them as I write about them. I mean, you don’t plan out your friends, right? You have to get to know them by spending time with them. But a good exercise is to have a conversation with them. First though, you need to take that character to his/her favorite restaurant (create a scenario). I’m going to use Anastasia Knight as an example.

I believe Anastasia is a meat-and-bread kind of girl, so I’ll take her a cafe full of sandwiches with delicious breads to choose from. She’d pick thick Italian bread and order the meat lover’s sandwich. Anastasia would pick out tomatoes, lettuce, dijon mustard, and some seasoning to top it off. She’d order a Sprite and come to the table to sit with me (can’t forget that she’d order salt and vinegar chips to go with it). She’d sit down and cross her legs casually before diving into her sandwich. I’d watch her, inserting comments and tidbits when she wasn’t eating. Finally, she would finish and I’d ask her how her week was going.

“Oh, you know. The usual,” Anastasia would brush back her hair. “High stress.”

“I heard you went out on a date the other night,” I’d prompt.

“Yep,” she’d blush a little.

“How was it?”

“Pretty good,” Anastasia would brush away the bread crumbs from her lap. “Nice guy, but I really don’t have time for that.”

“Why not?” I’d inquire.

“My job has to come first. I’m too busy to commit to a relationship right now.”

I would sigh contemplatively, and Anastasia would just smile lightly back. “I guess I can’t control your life,” I’d tell her.

She would shake her head. “I know you mean well, but I like my job. My boss is nice and the pay isn’t skimpy.”

“True, but that doesn’t mean your happiness should take a back seat.”

She would just shake her head and shrug indifferently.

Trying to lighten the mood, I would then proceed to mention how beautiful the weather had been that week. “Would you like to meet me at the park tomorrow?” I would ask hopefully.

Grabbing her cell phone, she would scroll through her schedule. “That would be great! How about five?” Clearly she was happy at the change of subject.

“Sounds good.”

Anastasia, wearing her pencil skirt and blood red top, would rise and sling her small purse over her shoulder. “I’m glad we got to chat. Looking forward to tomorrow,” she would smile and embrace me. “You’re a good friend. I’m glad I have people like you around.”

Her mood more optimistic, she would walk out the door, and I would watch Anastasia as she proceeded toward her car.

That was one example of a scenario. It was solemn and simple, but it worked. What do you take from that conversation? Anastasia Knight is a busybody, stressed, hard working, and appreciates her friends. Even though she expressed that she barely had time for relationships, she made time for her long time friend, even if it’s only for a short time.

Another way to get to know your character is to jot down his/her traits. Write down a few different situations and then put what you think your character might do in that situation. See if his/her traits hold true. Even if it’s against your nature, make sure you answer how your character would really react, not how you would. Example:

Character: Adam Lukhov

Traits: Selfish, Deceptive, insecure, committed, desperate, unloved (he’s a very “up and down” kind of character emotionally)

Scenario #1:

A woman is being robbed in a dark alleyway. (Adam) is on his way to his date, and he can’t stand up her up again or she’ll break up with him. What does (Adam) do?

Answer: Adam would stand there, watching the event happen. He might try to think of a quick fix, but in the end would race away to his date. Trying to tell himself that his date was more important, he’d stuff the memory to the back of his brain, though he would regret it later.

Scenario #2:

(Adam) accidentally dents his friend’s car when his friend is away. What does he do?

Answer: He tries to hide it from his friend and when his friend notices the dent, Adam would shrug it off. Finally, when his friend discovers that it was his fault, he’d apologize earnestly.

Scenario #3:

(Adam) is out with his friends and one of them says that his girlfriend has been cheating on him. How does (Adam) handle it?

Answer: Frustrated, he immediately sends an angry text to his girlfriend after very little investigation. His girlfriend is baffled and tells him she did no such thing. Sulky, Adam doesn’t respond to her text for a while until further evidence turns up. After that, guilt consumes him and he does everything he can to make it up to her.

Obviously, you can see some of Adam’s traits in these three answers. There is an overriding theme: he is self-centered. He doesn’t trust anyone (for reasons I won’t get into).

Try one of these methods. Share your examples in the comment section below! Do you know your characters?

Until next time,

S.G.B.

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