In character-building, fiction writers are often encouraged to create a biographical sketch which includes the character's physical attributes (Mitch has brown eyes and because I've written it down somewhere, Mitch will always have brown eyes in my book), family background and notes about important past traumas that affect the character's outlook on life. I always do this as part of my novel research, and use the Enneagram and astrological sign to give me hints about personality traits. With the sketch created, I can add other facts I learn about the character along the way.
Then I pull two books off my shelf with the express purpose of having a quick conversation with each of my characters.
The first book is "The Book of Questions" by Gregory Stock. I open the book at random three times and write down the question I find there. Then I ask each of my characters the same three questions and add their answers to each biographical sketch. So, whenI open the book up three times right now and I get:
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? [Question 127]
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? (Elizabeth Bennett has some thoughts on this.)[Question 142]
- Would you prefer to be blind or deaf? [Question 171]?
The second book is "14,000 things to be happy about." by Barbara Ann Kipfer. My request to each of my characters is "Name five things that make you happy." A random opening of the book again can bring intriguing answers and set the brain's idea juices into overdrive. Each page lists over 25 things that might make someone happy and I try to choose something that hits my fancy without making any judgments. Mitch (of the brown eyes above) is a land surveyor in Alabama in the early 1800's. The five things that make him happy are:
- writing old friends about new plans
- boiling water for coffee
- erect posture
Creating living, breathing characters can be tough, but using books like the ones I've mentioned can transform your paper characters into people.
Can anyone else suggest some other resources that will help us get to know our characters better?