(Homework for your story part 2)
By Nichole Giles
On the second day of the BYU workshop I recently attended, author Martine Leavitt lectured us on “How to make your reader love your character.” I thought this was a fitting lesson, since our readers must love our main character in order to keep reading. One person mentioned she had once read a book in which she absolutely hated the main character, but kept reading because the plot was so engrossing. I think that book was probably either extremely well plotted, or the exception to the rules. Maybe it was both.
Before we can make our readers love our main character, we should take time to get to know them. “Learn about your characters by hanging out with them,” Martine said.
Your readers don’t necessarily need to know your character’s favorite foods, or colors, or movies—but maybe you should. What do you really know about this person? How will they act when put into a conflict situation? You’re telling the story of his or her life; don’t you think you should take some time and really know all about it?
In the spirit of getting to know your character, here is your next homework assignment (courtesy of Martine Leavitt): Interview your character using the following questions.
1. What is your happiest memory?
2. What are you most afraid of?
3. What is your biggest regret?
4. What is the one thing you’ve never told anyone?
This can be done in the form of a question answer session, or a letter from the character to you. Do this in no more than one page.
You might be surprised at the insight you can get from asking your character such personal questions. I thought I knew my main character as well as I know my children—I did create her after all—until I did this exercise and learned a few things. Once again, the extra work has paid off. I am able to use some of this insight into my character’s daily life to help shape the person she is. I now know her reactions to certain situations, and the reasons for her feelings.
If we take the extra time to get to know our characters, we will be better able to share that knowledge with our readers. And the readers will thank us for it.
How well do you know your main character? Isn’t it time you found out?