Saturday, May 06, 2006

Getting to Know You

by Danyelle Ferguson

Have you ever wished one of your best friends was a character from a book?

One of the greatest compliments an author receives is when a reader identifies and loves the main character. But before a reader can love the character, the author first needs to give birth and raise their creation. In some ways, an author is like a god. We imagine the hero's good looks, qualities and faults. We create the heroine’s family, friends, history, and love interests. We bring them to life.

But how well do you really know your characters?

For example, have you ever filled out an employment application for her? These applications are full of important information like where she went to school, past jobs, references, home address, etc. While you're filling that out, think about what variety of jobs your character would both love and hate.

Or how about writing a college application essay from his point of view? If you're writing a book for youth, this is a fantastic way to develop your character's personality. How would a twelve-year-old from Georgia trying to save his family, town, and consequently, the world, (Ahem, I'm speaking of Jimmy Fincher) fill out an essay titled, "What are your goals and aspirations five, ten and twenty years from now?"

When was the last time you charted out a four-generation family tree for you main characters? We are LDS after all--we should use any tools available. It's nice to know who Grandma is before your character gets into a conversation about her. When you take the time to flesh out these characters and how they influenced your character's life, you will spend much less time when you get to these types of scenes. Another bonus, is you don't break the flow of your writing!

One of my favorite things to do is to take my main characters and put them into situations in which they would never find themselves. For example, how would Jennifer, the heroine from my current novel Take Two, react if she went to bed one night and woke up to find herself in another time period? Or what if she came home from work one day to find her dead husband sitting on the couch with their six-year-old son? There are numberless situations to choose and each of them will help you get to know your characters in a new, intimate way.

Now, here's my challenge to you: Get back to your keyboard and write a scene that involves you meeting your main character at the grocery store. Your carts bump into each other and instead of just saying “Sorry,” and moving on, you find something in common. What will that something be and where will the conversation lead?

These techniques give your characters depth and personality. It also allows you as the author to have more confidence when you put the main character up in a tree and set it on fire! Have fun and enjoy getting to know your hero and heroine!


KB said...

One thing I do to get to know my characters better is I imagine who would play them if the book was made into a movie. Then I go find a picture of the actor on the internet, print it out and post it up. Sometimes I go through clothing catalogs or magazines or free photo art collections looking for people that look like my character. This also helps me to be consistent in describing their physical characteristics.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Great comment. I started doing that as well when I took Anita Stansfield's writing class. I have a binder full of pictures with sticky notes on the ones that represent characters in the books I'm working on. Thank you for your feedback!