I recently came to learn that most of my fellow writers pick characters off real life. They sit around in coffee shops and roadside bistros, watching their neighbors and making up stories about them. This practice is, apparently, more common than when you watch TV on mute and try to feed dialogues to the people on the screen. Mind blowing, right? I always wondered how writers felt so comfortable tapping away at the keyboard in coffee shops. Turns out, they are really just describing their surroundings. Not a bad writing tip, I thought. Should speed up the process of character creation some.
My characters come completely out of my head – just as my stories come to me when a real life situation strikes me as though it didn’t pan out the way they should have. So I try to “fix” things, albeit in fiction, where my muddled heroes and heroines stumble around until they learn “the right way” of living. I’m a big fan of justice, and when justice is not to be found in the real world, I make up worlds of my own. I’m really a very balanced person.
The problem is if my characters come right out of my head, how do I allow them to become independent of who I am? When I already know the way I want my characters to behave at the end (to serve the moral I wish to convey), how do I let their journey become independent of mine? Also, it would be a terrible bore if every character turned out to be an extension of me.
I posed this same puzzle on the community board of the fiction writing course I recently took and a fellow writer gave me a very ingenious advice. She told me to interview my characters in the abstract. I have tried it since and it has seemed to work. These were the steps I took to blow my characters out of my head and into my workspace to gift them their independence:
I used the 5Ps of Character Development to draw up the character sketch of the role I was interviewing for my story;
- This sketch I posted on the mirror of my vanity table where I also set up my laptop for the duration of the interview;
- I next typed out a series of questions relevant to the plot of my story and pertaining to the scenes where this character is expected to appear;
- With the character sketch blocking my reflection, I posed these interview questions to my characters and had them answer back with the personality and psychology I saw on the sketch.
- I then wrote down the answers (because the character totally answered me back).
I followed these same steps for both my hero and heroine of I’ll Be True as well as some of the other major roles in the novel until they each started developing their own patterns of doing and saying things. Needless to say, it has increased the work to be done while editing the novel tremendously, including adding some new scenes, slicing away some old ones, and briefly introducing new characters that were previously on hold for future books in the series. But I think ultimately, it will make the novel more robust when I finally do turn it into an ebook.
More importantly, it’s helping my characters find voices independent of my own, thus, becoming more real.