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5 Tips for Creating Characters

Working on the development of characters is important for any writer and this weekend I received some wonderful ideas from super agent Donald Maass in his excellent workshop "Fire in Fiction" that I attended. He talked about how our characters can come alive through our work and it got me to thinking of different ways to further develop my characters and make them more individual. That is the excellent thing about his workshops. He gives ideas that the writer can then take and personalize and further develop so that their own voice shines through. 

One of the suggestions he had was to interview your characters and that really got me to thinking.  As a journalist, either working as a print reporter or as a TV news producer part of my job was interviewing people all the time.  While a lot of that work was more focused on getting information for a story, I always found that the most fun were the interviews where you got to just talk to people about themselves and their lives.  And that was what struck me about talking to our characters.

Don't we all run into situations where we suddenly are stuck in the story?  Usually when that happens to me I find that the character is being stubborn and maybe I need to work more on my characters.  What I realized as I listened to Donald Maass was that when this happens, it's probably the perfect time to interview a character.  Okay, well, then what do we ask?  And that is where I can refer back to my journalistic training.  Talk to the characters, ask them about themselves and get them to feel comfortable and then hit them with the tough questions.  Here are more tips for interviewing your characters.

1. Ask them what their hopes are for the present.  What are their goals for today and tomorrow.  Start small so that the answers will be easy to deal with.

2.  Ask what is holding them back.  Are they afraid of something in particular? Are they frustrated by something that happened the previous day.

3.  Ask them about their long term goals. That can bring some of the present goals into focus, but if you ask that first it might be too big to think about. Once they've answered questions about smaller goals, this question might be easier.

4.  Ask what their biggest fear for the moment might be. What are they afraid the other person in the story is going to do or the worst case scenario.

5.  Ask why they want a certain result.  Why do they need to achieve their goals -- both short term and long term.

These questions can't answer all the story questions you might have and you might even need to interview them a couple of times as the story goes along, but talking regularly to your characters can be a big help.


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