I’ve tried a lot of different ways to learn about my characters before I start to write my novel, yet none have really clicked yet. I know these methods work for other writers so I thought I’d talk about the ones I have tried and see if anyone has a method to suggest.
The Questionnaire – Asking a long list of questions and answering them in character. Often I find these to be too superficial. If a character loves food I might talk about their favorite food once or twice, but for those that focus on other things food isn’t relevant to their character.
Of course there are also questions that are too broad. What’s important to your character? I don’t know yet, that’s why I’m filling out this questionnaire. Perhaps if I found a good mix of questions that worked together more this would work for me, but the ones that I have tried do not.
The Monologue – Having a character fill out a diary entry/letter/generally talk for a while. This will usually tell me what the character wants and what they find annoying. It can leave the character feeling one sided. To be fair I haven’t tried doing both a diary entry and letter for the same character, which might give me a more well rounded feel of their private v public life. I recently heard of pretending your character is going to a therapist, or have a character write a letter to the author, either discussing all of the horrible things that they've had to endure. I’ll be trying these next.
The Pinterest board – Putting together a collection of pictures of what the character, their home, and their general living arrangements are like. I find that this encourages me to spend too much time describing what the characters look like instead of their actions and emotions. Although adding some pictures to my general character notes helps me remember some of their physical descriptions.
Writers Coloring Book by Rachel Funk Heller - This is a particularly unique way to learn about your characters and plot around them. The book uses color to show the different levels of a characters psyche. One of the nice parts is just choosing colors that go well together and then figuring out how they fell together that way later on. This seems to work visual writers.
How do you learn about your characters?