So: Who Are Your Characters?

Good-day, friends! Still practicing my Aussie-style hello–we’re into the second week of the Australian Open Tennis Championships and pretty much all my favorite players are still in it on the men’s side; Kim Clijsters keeps it VERY interesting for the women! SuperBowl #45 contenders are in place. With the Jets out of it–rough way to close it out, too–I can happily root for the Aaron Rogers’ team. (Oops! I’m sure I meant Green Bay. ;)) Hopefully, I’ll have my Sunday life back beginning Feb 7th. No more sports for a while!

Moving on: Assuming I remember correctly, I believe I read a post by today’s guest at the Author Island Tiki Hut,  liked what I saw and invited her over for a visit. We did an exchange. She’s here today; I’ll be at her blog later this week (Thursday, 1/27), sharing about a love-hate relationship. Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to stop by!

The Story: France, 1942.  The world is at war. The Nazis have stolen the infamous blue diamond, Le Coeur Bleu, intending to barter it for weapons that will destroy the Allies. Jewel thief Hunter Smith is given a choice; help the French Resistance steal back the diamond and avenge the death of his best friend, or stay locked up in an English prison. He chooses revenge.

Resistance fighter Madeleine Bertrand’s husband died when he was betrayed by Hunter Smith. How can she now pretend to be married to the arrogant American? How can she betray Jean Philippe’s memory by her passionate response to Hunter’s kisses? Neither is prepared for the maelstrom of attraction that erupts between them. To survive they must uncover the mysteries of the past and conquer the dangers of the present. But first Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.    

The Tantalizer: “I said in the letter that you had not worked as a gardener before, so he is not expecting you to know the difference between a delphinium and a dianthus.”  Monsieur Gagnon poured milk onto his porridge.  “But he is expecting you to work hard.  If you don’t, you could be fired, or your cover could be blown.”

“I can manage.”

 “The job might require a little more than sticking a shovel in the ground occasionally and spreading a bit of manure,” Madeleine said.  The others turned to stare at her.

She immediately regretted her sarcastic remark, regretted throwing his words in his face.  She shouldn’t let this man get to her, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.  They needed to work together for the sake of the mission.  But she hated him.  After what he’d done to Jean Philippe…

Hunter’s gaze locked with hers, and the heat of his anger scorched her clear across the room.  She refused to back down from the challenge in his stare.  She’d be damned if she’d let him intimidate her.

“Madeleine, enough.”  Monsieur Gagnon spoke sharply.  “Regardless of your feelings, we need him.  He is our only hope for getting the diamond out of the hands of the Nazis.”

He was right.  If they couldn’t steal Le Coeur Bleu, Jean Philippe would have died for nothing.  She couldn’t let that happen.

She inhaled deeply and looked away.  “All right.  We’ll work together.”

And with that, I present to you:

The Author: Jana Richards has tried her hand at many writing projects over the years, from magazine articles and short stories to paranormal suspense and romantic comedy.  She loves to create characters with a sense of humor, but also a serious side.  She believes there’s nothing more interesting then peeling back the layers of a character to see what makes them tick. When not writing up a storm, working at her day job as an Office Administrator, or dealing with ever present mountains of laundry, Jana can be found on the local golf course pursuing her newest hobby. Jana lives in Western Canada with her husband Warren, along with two university aged daughters and a highly spoiled Pug/Terrier cross named Lou. Learn more about Jana at her website and blog.

   

All yours, Jana!

Thank you, Joanna. I’ve always found that the better I know my characters the easier it is to write my story.  If I know my characters inside and out, I’ll know what they’ll do in any situation.  This means their actions grow out of their characters and are natural and consistent with the people I’ve created.  In other words, they react like “real” people.

So how do I get to know my characters?  Usually, before I begin writing, I have in mind the kind of character needed in my story.  Using a character sketch, I begin to create the characters who will people my stories.  The character sketch covers everything from physical attributes and educational background, to attitudes towards sex, his/her family, and life in general.  I’ve used this one for many years:

  1. Name, age, birthday, birthplace.
  2. Body type:  height, and weight; short description of overall appearance; general impression she/he gives.
  3. Details of physical appearance:  color of eyes; color of hair and complexion; frequent facial expressions; way of moving and walking; sound of voice.  Characteristic mannerisms and gestures.
  4. Dominant character traits.  Which get her/him into the most trouble?  Basic personality:  extroverted, introverted, independent, insecure, other.
  5. Taste and preference in dress:  favourite outfits, jewellery, makeup if applicable. 
  6. Personal history and background:  Are parents alive?  Siblings?  Role in family when growing up; type of childhood.
  7. Previous relationships with opposite sex.  If married before, describe marriage.  If divorced, how bitter?  If widowed describe feelings about deceased spouse.  If single, what past love experiences?  Attitude toward sex, toward own sexuality, toward opposite sex. 
  8. Educational background and current profession:  skills, responsibilities, goals, daily responsibilities in present job.
  9. Personal goals, dreams hopes, and philosophy of life.
  10.  Hobbies and talents, outside of professional skills.
  11.  Problems character is facing as the novel opens, both emotional and practical.
  12.  Past experience that provides motivation for character’s decision and action in relation to problem or problems that arise(s) as the story develops.
  13.  How will character’s decisions and actions complicate the resolution of the problem?
  14.  Write a paragraph summing up the essence of this character’s personality.  Now reduce it to one line.

The character sketch is not written in stone.  As you write you may add to your knowledge of your character as you get to know him/her.  I suggest revising your sketch as you go.

Another great way to get to know your character is to interview them.  Yes, I do know we are talking about a fictional character, but treating them like real people helps to make them real for your readers.  Vanessa Grant, in her book “Writing Romance” offers this advice and some sample questions to ask your character: 

  1. Ask a friend to be your interviewer.  A writer friend is best:  he or she will understand what you’re trying to do.
  2. Record the interview.  Recording will eliminate the distraction of taking notes.
  3. Give your interviewer a starter list of questions, then tell him or her to wing it, ask anything at all.
  4. Slip into character and answer all questions in the first person.
  5. (Note:  it is possible to simply interview your character yourself using a recorder, or a keyboard.  Whatever works for you.)

Sample Questions:

Where and when were you born?

Was your family rich, poor, middle class? How did this affect you?

Which parent were you closest to? What’s your relationship today?

Any siblings? Tell me about them. What’s your relationship today?

What’s your education background?

Did you like school? If not, why not?

Did you have a pet?

Ever been married? What happened?

What do you consider your best physical feature?

Do you read? What kind of reading? Books? Magazines? Newspapers?

What makes you angry?

What do you care about most?

Sometimes it’s helpful to look over a list of personality traits to narrow down those you want your character to have.  This list (http://www.gurusoftware.com/gurunet/Personal/Factors.htm) also includes the corresponding negative trait in addition to the positive trait.  Remember that a negative trait is only three steps from a positive one.

 How do you get to know your characters?  Do you fill out character sketches or conduct interviews?  What other methods have you used?  For fun, check out the character sketches for the former Canadian TV show “Due South”, (http://fly.hiwaay.net/~warydbom/duesouth/sketches.htm) particularly the one for Constable Benton Fraser, just because he’s cute.  But seriously, this site gives an idea of how sketches are created and used.

Thanks, Jana. Always great to have something I can save and refer to in the future. I’m so bad at sketching my characters. I tend to have an idea who they are but really get to know them as I write. Makes it fun in that I’m very much the reader as I write. The story and the players tend to reveal themselves as I progress. What’s really cool is when I’m certain I know these folks, then another nuance of their personalities emerges. Anyway, such is the life of this pantser.

That’s it for today, everyone. Remember, I’ll be at Jana’s blog on Thursday–hope to see you there!

Have a great day and thanks for your visit. Always appreciated!

Joanna

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14 thoughts on “So: Who Are Your Characters?

    1. Hi Jannine,
      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve found other character sketches but I always come back to this one. It seems to work for me. I found it in the back of a book on writing many years ago. I wish I could attribute the sketch to whoever wrote it, but I don’t remember the name of the book!
      Jana

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  1. Hi Joanna,
    Thanks for inviting me to your house. It’s great to be here.
    I really do use these methods to learn about my characters, especially the character sketch. It really helps me to form my thoughts about the characters, and learn about their goals and motivations.
    Well, back to work. I’ll check in later. Bye for now!

    Jana

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  2. Brilliant post and the excerpt is to die for! Wonderfully informative and helpful.
    Joy Held
    Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity
    Who Dares Wins Publishing

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  3. Hi Joy,
    I’m glad you found my post informative. I hope there’s something in there that you can use. I use the character sketch all the time and find that it helps me really learn about my characters.

    Thanks for commenting.
    Jana

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  4. Hey everyone,

    Checking in very late here–so sorry. It’s been a long day but having visitors always improves one’s mood! Thanks so much, and thanks again, Jana, for bringing us a rich collection of information we can put to use time and again!

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  5. A special hello to Randi/Rachel, a brand new reader and subscriber! In the shortest time, she’s given me a great shot in the arm and inspired me tons–thanks so much!

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  6. I’m with you on that one, Lara. This would be my third WWII novel. The more I read against that setting the more I like. Loved Chris Clemetson’s A DAUGHTER’S PROMISE, and have Jenn Childers’ KINDERTRANSPORT on the Nook ready to go. FLAWLESS sounds great too. My favorite is how people wonder how I know so much about so many different topics–uh, fiction, people. Fiction!

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