Take Your Characters Out For Coffee
I am lucky enough to be the moderator of a couple of writing communities. One is the Salt Lake City Writer’s Group and the other Open Vein Writing at Livejournal (yes we had this conversation in the last entry, it still exists, don’t knock it).
One of the primary questions that I ask other people is “how do you get to know your characters?”
Sometimes, the answers are awesome. Sometimes, people look at me like I’ve grown a second head. “What do you mean get to know the character? Won’t they tell me about themselves as I write the story?”
Every character is different. I think every writer knows that. Sometimes you go in knowing everything from favorite color to when they lost their virginity to when they’re going to die. And sometimes, they are a blank slate that you color on. But either way, I think it is so important to get to know your characters.
But why, you ask, is favorite color so important? Because colors are symbols. Because colors give us meaning. Is red a favorite color because your character likes power or because as a child, their favorite fruit was red apples? Why does it matter if your character likes sports? Because it changes the people they hang with, the way they talk. And yes, it matters what sports they like. If you have a character who likes football … it matters what kind of football they like.
What about how your character feels about infedelity? Teen pregnancy? Dogs vs. Cats? Divorce? All of these things matter to how a character is presented, how your character thinks about certain things.
Yes. Characters will surprise us. Yes, we’ll write entire drafts of novels before realizing that a character is say, bisexual instead of a lesbian and going to end up with someone completely different than initially assumed (I’m looking at you, Gina Case.) But characters and stories come alive when we get to know who they are as people. When we get to know who we are as people interacting with them. Because yes, as writers, we are having a relationship with these characters.
Weird, I know. But it’s true. So let me say it again.
We are in a relationship with our characters.
We fall in love, in lust. We hate and scorn and cry. We lecture. We listen. And if that’s not a relationship, I don’t know what is.
So do yourself a favor if you’re stuck. Take your character out for coffee. And by that, I mean a number of things. Take a journal, go sit and write from their persepctive. Have a conversation with them in a coffee shop. Write a short story. Pick a prompt off the internet and give them 500 words on the topic.
Get to know them. Over coffee, tea, wine, whatever.