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Do You Know Who You Are Writing About?

Not everyone believes it is necessary to really know your characters in the way I'm about to explain. This is especially the case with pantsers[1] who write as they are going along, but it’s crucial to many of the more planner-type writers to ensure they know their characters inside out.

External characteristics are certainly important to understand, but internal characteristics are major too. There are plenty of tools like character creation sheets out there to help you to plan and log your character’s physical traits, but it’s just as important (perhaps more) to understand who they are on the inside.

Think about how each of your characters might respond to certain scenarios. One way to do this is to look online for questions you could ask your characters. My book, 'The Waggon' is in the very final stages of production, and due out in Autumn 2022. I thought about my teenaged character, Blue, and found some questions to ask her on the blog.

Blue is still at school and is in her mid-teens when her dad dies. After his death, Blue and her mum discover that her dad has left them with a restored romany gypsy caravan he calls 'The Waggon'. A trip around the country is planned for his wife and child. Both are initially very reluctant to take the trip but they learn a lot from it.

The first question asks about Blue's worst habit. So, I put myself inside my character’s psychology. She is a young schoolgirl who is in somewhat of a rebellious phase, probably due to her dad’s illness and death. I am sure that Blue’s worse habit would be visualised differently by her mum. who would state very firmly that her only child’s worst habit was her teenage moods and rebellions. But, perhaps Blue would say that her worst habit was not doing the washing up when asked.

Who is Blue’s favourite celebrity? Blue has a passion for learning, creating and constructing. I suspect that she might go for a famous engineer rather than a standard celebrity. She certainly doesn’t have much of an interest in the social media world that most of her friends do, so perhaps she wouldn’t even know who most celebrities were. She'd be far more interested in Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci or Ellen Ochoa - especially the latter, a female astronaut, engineer and massive role model to an independent creative soul like Blue. I'm planning on incorporating this AND more of Blue's interests in the final edit of 'The Waggon'.

In answer to another question from brightful, if Blue found $2,000 on the ground, she would keep it, no questions asked. She would tell nobody and wouldn’t spend it particularly wisely.

What’s Blue’s favourite pizza topping? My experience of teenagers tends toward there being a different topping preference every month. No sooner have you got used to the child’s fave than you come back with a pizza that they ‘have always hated’. And they tell you this with a sneer. Blue would like olives and anchovies, extra cheese, basil leaves and barbecue chicken.

It is strange to think of Blue having the abilities of her pet (the subject of another brightful question) but she starts the story being not-at-all keen on four-leggers. She soon adores the waggon-pulling horse her dad chose. And Blue's horse-like ability would be to pull the waggon all the way home.

I had to think long and hard about what Blue’s three wishes might be. First, would obviously be that her dad didn’t die, she didn’t have to go on the trip in a gypsy caravan, no matter how pretty it was, and that her boyfriend would love her back. That’s at the beginning of the book, but by the end of the book, I suspect her three wishes would be that her mum would do her the massive favour she requests, that she passes her exams and that, obviously, her dad didn’t die.

Blue’s favourite song would be something from 'Heartstopper'. She’s been sexually active, but that isn't her at all. She's a romantic. And 'Heartstopper' is one of the biggest series on Netflix at the time of finishing this book. Many of the main characters are outsiders in one way or another, and Blue would definitely feel herself to be the same.

Would Blue take a stand or let things go? (Another brightful question.) I think it depends on the situation and the person involved. Probably she wouldn’t let a single thing go when it came to disputes with her mum but would accept almost anything from her far too old boyfriend.

Answering questions like those above will seriously help you write dialogue, both internal and spoken, and will give you a deeper understanding of how characters' minds works.

So, even if you are a pantser, it is probably really good to ask yourself questions about the characters once the story’s written, so you can check details out for consistency.

[1] Someone who writes spontaneously with no pre-planning. Flying by the seat of your pants.


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