One important piece of making your story believable is understanding the motivations of your characters. Why is a big question we’re always asking, and one of those questions is “Why does my character care about this?” Sometimes that can get lost in the writing if you don’t even know who your character is to begin with.
Getting to know your characters is a key element of making them feel realistic. Sometimes you need less depth than others. Sometimes it’s easy to get to know your character. Other times, you find yourself staring at the page wondering what they’re going to do next.
I’ve known my characters for Darkness Falling for 19 years. That means I’ve had a long time to get to know them. With my newer characters it’s not so easy. It’s important not to make every character a copy of another, which is also difficult when you’ve known a character for such a long time.
One thing that helps me is that I get a lot of inspiration from video games, especially Role Playing Game (RPG) type games. You may create your character with sliders and preset options, but then you spend hours and hours with them on various adventures. Being a writer, it’s impossible for me not to start to create the character’s persona and backstory.
How does my character feel about this quest? Sometimes I’m doing quests and I know my character is not happy with what is going on. Other times, my character feels the quest is exactly what she should be doing. It’s the same thing with writing.
Humans love games, and we learn from playing. That’s why games are so popular; they stimulate and exercise our brains. It’s easy to create new characters while playing a game, but it’s also fun to play games to get to know your characters.
If you’ve ever played a tabletop RPG you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, it’s a basic concept. At the start of a game campaign (story) you create a character. You write all of the stats for your character on a sheet. These stats are determined by base numbers in the game master’s guide book along with random modifiers from a roll of your dice.
Character sheets are also a great way to get to know the characters in your story. Maybe you don
‘t need to know their strength and intelligence, (although it could be helpful if you’re writing an action novel,) but writing down their weight, height, eye and hair color, other defining marks, and background is also a great way to see your character and keep them on file.
The internet is also a great place to get character sheets for free.
What is your character’s favorite flavor of ice cream? It doesn’t matter if your story takes place where there isn’t any ice cream. Given the chance to try ice cream, your character would have a favorite flavor.
If you character could go to dinner with anyone (in your story or not, alive or dead,) who would it be?
What is your character’s favorite color?
You get the idea. There’s a lot of questions people ask each other for fun that are also great for character building. It can also be done anywhere. You can sit and think about this stuff while riding the bus, waiting to see a doctor, or while you’re doing chores.
Would you Rather
This is a lot like the 20 questions except it offers a choice. The questions do not need to be gross or torturous as they often are, but they can be if you choose.
Would you rather go camping or stay in a hotel? This is a great question because it gives you a feel for your character’s personality.
Would you rather eat in a restaurant or cook at home? Would you rather run or walk? Would you rather eat something sweet or salty?
There are endless questions you can ask of your characters to figure out who they are. It’s also another game you can play anywhere.
To sum it all up, characterization can be fun if you turn it into a game. If you have more tips for games to play share them in the comments.
Thank you for reading!