In our last installment of How to Get Inside Your Character’s Head for More Authentic Writing, we offered strategies to help you figure out how your character would act and react to the circumstances of a scene. This week, re-read the scene and ask yourself whether the character’s actions and thoughts are simply convenient to your plot or a true reflection of his/her heart and soul. If it reads genuine, congratulate yourself on a job well done. If it still feels like it’s falling flat, try this exercise to add more depth. Ask yourself:
How does my character’s _________ influence the way he/she acts and reacts in this scene?
- Family circumstances
- Economic circumstances
- Education level
- Belief system
- Birth order
- Race or Ethnicity
- Period of history in which he/she lives
Taking the time to answer each of these questions will help you get a better handle on who your protagonist is so that your readers will care about what happens to them throughout your story.
Last week, we encouraged you to do a pre-writing exercise of visualizing a scene before you wrote it. If you had trouble, it might mean that you don’t know your protagonist as well as you think you do. Here is an exercise you can try to help you get a better sense of the central figure to your story.
Consider the following scenario: The coach for your 6th grade PE class has just appointed the two best basketball players in the school to pick teams for a class scrimmage. What would your character think, see, hear and feel if:
- He/She missed the shot at the last game that cost them a win.
- She/He has a massive crush on one of the captains picking the teams.
- He’s/She’s known more for skills with a video game controller than athleticism on the court.
- She’s/He’s been practicing all summer and knows he’s/she’s going to own the court this season.
Jot down your ideas for each character. Then, apply the same exercise for the protagonist of your story. Consider how the character’s life experiences (or lack thereof) would affect everything he or she notices and feels in the circumstances of the scene.
Before you start a writing session, eliminate distractions, close your eyes and picture the setting your protagonist is in. Visualize the play-by-play action and what the character would see, hear, smell and feel. If you want, set a timer during this exercise. Think about what your character would notice and how he or she would react to the events happening. Then, when you have a good sense of the scene, start writing.
Today, for National Sibling Day, take some time to consider how your protagonist’s sibling relationships have shaped their character. Siblings can be allies or enemies and sometimes both, and their presence or absence is guaranteed to influence your protagonist in profound ways. As a starting point, consider your own sibling dynamics as well as birth order, gender, ages and age gaps. Twelve and fourteen year old sisters will have a very different relationship then a twelve and eighteen year old brother and sister. If your protagonist doesn’t feel fully authentic, try altering the family dynamic. Change the age of a sibling or their gender, or even change a friend into a sibling and see how that altered relationship effects your protagonist.
consider how sibling dynamics have shaped your characters.
What’s your favorite resource for character development? It could be a book, a blog, podcast or worksheet, etc.?