I don’t know about you, but sometimes I struggle with characterization. Characters don’t talk to me, they don’t pop into my head fully-formed. I have to work at uncovering who they are and finding what makes them unique.
I have used those massive ‘Get to Know Your Character’ question sheets, but I find many can be a bit generic and aren’t always enough for me to brainstorm the qualities of a Stand Out Character.
Flaws, quirks, mannerisms, interests, obsessions, fears and secrets are often what sets a character apart. I have a few techniques that I’ve used that help me ‘think outside’ the interview sheet when a character is being particularly stubborn about revealing themselves to me. If you’re like me and need a bit of a push to unearth that special spark of uniqueness, try one of these exercises:
Be a Snoop
Invade their personal space and list out the contents of something private and personalized: a wallet, purse, locker, work desk, car, bedroom vanity, backpack, pseudo sock drawer. What objects/keepsakes/personal items do they keep on hand? Make it your mission to discover one or two things you didn’t expect to find there but do, and think about why they have it and what it means. Creative thinking will lead to new facets of their character you might not have expected.
You’ve seen it on TV, maybe even tried it yourself. Set a timer for 5 minutes and ask your character as many questions you can. Make it your goal to discover something unusual about them–a secret, fear, an interest, a phobia. Go beyond “What’s your favorite color?” and thick them in the hot seat. Pay attention to the questions that they try to avoid or are discomforted by.
Play a game of Would You Rather…
Would you rather…chew gum off the sidewalk or eat a worm? Would you rather…be paid $1000 to fire a single parent or have to pay the police $2000 for a traffic violation? This is a great, quick game that will test your character’s moral center and expose those phobias and dislikes, and also tell you whether they are attention getters, risk takers or quiet observers.
Good Cop/Bad Cop
Pretend your character was in the vicinity to a crime (murder, robbery, car jacking, graffiti…you choose) and hit them with a split personality interview–good cop, bad cop. Is your character a bystander or guilty? You decide. Watch them squirm, grow frustrated or lie with ease. This is a great exercise to put them in the pressure cooker to judge emotional range and reactions.
Do you have any special techniques to bring out the interesting traits of your character? I’d love it if you shared them as I’m always looking for new ideas to strengthen my ability to connect with my characters and understand who they are.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.