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Getting into your character’s head

29 November, 2008

What makes your character tick?

Books on writing often suggest that you map out your character’s life, e.g.,  friends and family, early experiences,  likes and dislikes.

Another way of finding out more is to get more deeply inside your character’s head. How?

Below is a set of questions. Imagine asking your character each one.  How will s/he respond? Jot down what your character would say in response. Or roleplay, writing responses as a journal/diary or responding out loud as your character.

What does this exercise reveal?

  • Your character may answer in ways that surprise you.
  • Your character may even  refuse to answer some of the questions. If so, do you know why? And exactly HOW does the character refuse? Does she change the subject or get angry? Does he tell you he’s bored and has better things to do? Does she stubbornly remain silent?
  • Does your character focus mainly on the past, the present or the future. What does this suggest?
  • Think of how your character answers. Does this tell you something about his or her personality? Education? Concerns?
  • Do you get a sense of the character’s world-view, prejudices, dreams and fears?
  • You may find that some of your character’s major concerns have not made their way into your story. Knowing more about what matters to your character can give you a better sense of how to recast your story, for example, what to emphasise and what to omit or downplay.

Open-ended questions to ask your character

I can’t…

I won’t…

I don’t know why…

I don’t know how…

I want to know why…

I want to know how…

I try to be…

I will be…

I should be…

I have to be…

I will be …

I will…

I won’t…

I’ve learned that…

I’ve decided to…

——

Source: Material adapted from a workshop by Alan Parker, author of Switch on Your Brain.


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