getting to know your character in 500 words

September 11, 2015

Wow, people. I’m thrilled–and also humbled–by your response to Starlight on Willow Lake. The most frequently-asked question about this book is “How did you come up with a character like Faith?” (She’s the protagonist.)

Pleased to meet you!
Pleased to meet you!

It’s a good time for me to answer this question, because I’m meeting with a bunch of writers at a Seattle7Writers event on Bainbridge Island. Here is how to make a fictional character seem very real to the reader. Get her talking. Make sure she’s talking in her own voice, not your voice. If you want to write a lot of different characters, you don’t want them all to sound like you.

The key for me is to have her speak in first person–on paper. I’m quirky, as you know, so I write this out in longhand as a free-flowing conversation with my newly-invented character. If you’re a writer, give it a try. If you’re a reader, move on! Go read something wonderful! Then come back and tell us about it!

ANSWER IN THE CHARACTER’S VOICE:

My ordinary world looks like:
The first time the reader meets me, here’s what I’m doing:
My most relatable trait is:
The problem I’m facing right now is:
The thing in my head that’s holding me back is:
The thing in my world that holding me back is:
If I don’t figure out my problem, the consequences are:
Show the reader this image to suggest where the story is going:
My person history in three sentences:
At this moment, I look like:
In school, I was:
The people in my family origin are:
Here’s how I make a living:
Here’s the person I love most in the world:
My favorite thing is:
My least favorite thing is:
I’m aware that I have this personal problem or issue:
My friends and family would say I have this personal issue:
I would finally feel complete if:
The thing I need right now is:
My deepest desire is:
My biggest goal in life is:
I have an emotional wound that stems from:
My greatest regret is:
The way I defend myself is:
My weakness:
My strength:
The single characteristic that could destroy me is:
The single characteristic that could save me is:
What I want the reader to know about me right this moment is:
The one thing that is going to get me going on my journey is:
I’m reluctant to change my path because:
My biggest fear is:
I express that fear by:
If I don’t go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
If I do go on this journey, here’s what will happen:
The greatest danger to me right now is:
My mentor is:
I do have a code of ethics. Here is its, in one sentence:
Something that bothers my conscience is:
Here’s what it would be required to make me take a leap of faith:
My worst enemy is:
My greatest ally is:
In order to achieve my goal, I would be willing to sacrifice this:
The difficult choice he must make as my journey comes to an end is:
My emotional breakthrough would be:
I’ll know I’ve completed my journey and mastered my problem when I _______________________________________________________________________.

Happy Writing!

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| 5 Comments
  • I am going to share this with my daughter who is about to graduate and is planning to become a writer herself with aspirations in film script. Thank you for the many hours you have transported me into another world. Your latest work, was truly breathtaking. I loved it! Your made the characters come to life and the story very poignant. May you continually be blessed with the talents and gifts you have.

  • I have a similar process but many of these questions add a new twist. I usually use my laptop, but I think I may try using longhand on paper to see how that goes. I always enjoy your characters. I usually read your books twice–once for pure entertainment and the second time as a writer hoping to learn. Thank you for sharing, Susan!

  • Reblogged this on Elizabeth Andrews Writes and commented:
    I’m always looking for new things to figure out my characters–and I have a pretty long form I use already, though for each different character, I don’t always fill in each section’s info or answers. Anyway, this looks like a very useful worksheet! I might have mentioned previously how much I love Susan Wiggs, but I really do love Susan Wiggs!

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