Monday, August 16, 2010

Knowing Characters Doesn't Mean Feeling Them

Well, I've found myself in the not-so-fun position of looking at some very significant secondary characters rather blankly and thinking: 'Okay, so WHAT are you doing?' and 'WHY would you be doing that?' I know their histories rather fully. I've written their dialogue and it comes across naturally enough with each sounding different from the other. I know their names, their likes and dislikes, their loves and hates, and some of their driving goals.

But I've realised something ... I know them the way a person knows their boss or a friend and it's just not close enough. There's knowledge there but no real intimacy. There's a certain spark of recognition that's missing. While the protagonist does his thing I don't really know what everyone else is doing. How do they exist outside of the protagonist? Who are they really? What are their plots?

I'm wondering how I could best determine this. Perhaps do a blow-by-blow of what others are doing when off-stage? Perhaps do a mind-map and brainstorm all the aspects of the characters and what that would likely drive them to do? Perhaps brow-beat them into submission by writing character interviews and demanding they reveal all?

I'm just not sure.

What do you do?


  1. When I have this problem I write something from their perspective. Maybe it's an off-camera scene, something my main protag would never see nor will I include in my final MS. Maybe it's a scene from my MS through their perspective rather than my protag. Or, most likely, it's their entire history written out in their voice, a short autobiography. The last serves 2 purposes in that in forces me into their character AND serves as a backstory/synopsis for them. Very useful.

    Hope that helps you!

  2. I like the idea of a regular scene in a secondary character's perspective. I've never tried that before and I think it would really help me understand what's running through their head. Hmm... Something else to throw into the writing & revising cycle! And people say that writing novels is easy... :P