Creating Memorable Characters Means Being Patient and Asking a Lot of Questions

Mar 13, 2023 | Novels

Over the last few weeks, I have been facilitating a class called Get To Know Your Character. And that is what I’ve been doing. Looking at characters, their traits, and fears, and backstories….and getting to know them in story.

It’s the part of the process I like best.

It’s also not so simple.

Creating memorable characters means being patient. And asking a lot of questions. And yesterday, it meant walking close to ten miles before I truly understood WHY my character had just done something out of character.

I knew I was missing something.

Honestly, I felt a little bit stuck. And a little confused. And mostly terrified.

I knew I was missing something, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew this new scene was a BIG SCENE, a story changing scene, a momentum changing scene, and that meant it had to make sense in the context of the novel. It had to push the novel forward. It had to reveal something new. I knew I was missing SOMETHING. And I wasn’t going to be able to keep going until I knew what it was.

(Thus, the walk.)

Are you ready to stretch? Reach? Groan? Embrace the power of play?

What do you do when you discover a big scene, a story defining scene, a scene that may feel too big, too tough, too hard to write?

(insert snarky smile)

That’s right. You write it. Nothing makes me understand my characters MORE than seeing them in scene, than hearing them speak when the stakes are high, when seeing what they will do when their worldview is threatened.

In fact, I suggest writing that scene 3-5 ways if you can and seeing just what might happen if your character took different paths/made different choices/said different things.

Can you try that this week?

Go to a BIG SCENE and choose three different paths. Map them out. Anticipate what the other characters will do. See if maybe that scene that feels so scary to write is also the scene that will open up your novel and make it more impactful.

Writers, playing like this is hard. The stakes are high. Not just for our characters but for us, too. It shows character to be willing to dig and then dig again. To discover and then realize that that discovery was only a portal to the real truth of your story.

Just so we’re clear: I like being DONE as much as anyone, but if you can get out of the way of your story and let your characters speak to you and for themselves, you can not just find the best scene. You will hear their voices. See their tics. Understand the why behind their mistakes. You will see where you are headed. In those moments, we must be both honest and courageous. We must build our characters through these big, scary moments. Not around them.

Are you ready? Do you need to walk? Or draw? Or outline? Whatever you need to discover, go do it.

And have a great playful writing week.

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