#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop: Letters to explore character

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2 This week I’m participating in a new monthly blog hop run by the wonderful Raimey Gallant, the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, a monthly event quite similar to the #Inkripples challenge I’ve been doing for the past few months. The big difference is that #InkRipples has a different theme every month, whereas this new blog hop’s theme is always the same, delightfully broad topic: resources for writers. And this month I’ve decided to share an exercise I’m using right now to develop the world and characters of my Big Insane Fantasy Series (which you’ll learn more about soon, I promise):

Letters Between Characters

When you think of character development the first thing that comes to mind is probably a massive character profile. There are thousands of templates for these profiles online, all asking for a dry list of facts. What is your character’s hair colour? What is their eye colour? How tall are they? How many siblings do they have? Where do they live? Where do they go to school or work?

These character sheets have a use, but for me they’re something to fill in after building a character, not before. I learn the most about a character by walking them through actual writing exercises. And one of the biggest things I do is let the character describe their daily life and most important memories to me.

Around the time I first started blogging I did a personal “Dear Diary” challenge, with the goal of intense character development. I wrote a diary entry from the viewpoint of a character–in this case the goddess of death, Astarael–every day for a month. I actually started each entry with the words “Dear Diary”, because it helped me conquer my fear of the blank page. So, essentially, I wrote a bunch of letters from one character to herself. I also posted a bunch of them on my blog, and if you look hard enough you may even still be able to find them.

This year I’ve decided to write a series of actual letters between multiple characters. If you’ve ever read some of the many published historical letters, you’ll know that letters can tell you an incredible amount about a person. Every word written speaks volumes about their personality, their relationship with the other person, their view of the world around them.

If your characters are really interesting and you know what you’re doing, letters between characters can also become saleable short stories. Hell, you can write an entire novel in letters. I’ve never liked books written entirely in letter format (I honestly can’t think of one I’ve ever finished), but I love novels that incorporate some letter writing. I love one-off shorts in letter format even more.

Long story short, letter writing as a character development exercise is a win win scenario. I’ve already started, and so far it’s proven itself as both a powerful writing exercise and a great way to trick my brain into writing short stories.

That said, I’ve got about a million more projects now than I did when I created the “Dear Diary” challenge for myself, so I’m definitely not committing to a letter every day. Or even every weekday. This time I’m not focusing on the quantity, I’m focusing on the quality. My goal is to write one letter from each main character in my current novel. This will help me quickly develop my semi-large cast, especially if I focus them all on major life events. And I already know it will be a lot of fun.

Have you ever written a letter between two of your characters? Do you think this would be an interesting exercise? Let me know in the comments section below!

30 thoughts on “#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop: Letters to explore character

  • Writing letters seems like an amazing tool to help with developing a character’s voice. When I was in middle school I remember doing something really similar with the characters in my novel at the time, but I never considered doing it with my current works. Definitely interesting and something I will try.

    • dlgunn

      It’s been pretty amazing so far, that’s for sure! And I wasn’t much older when I did the Dear Diary project; sometimes our younger selves really WERE on to something.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • I’ve never had characters write letters to each other or to anyone as an exercise or as a part of the story, but I like the idea. I’ve read a couple of novels in Dear Diary form (Robert Heinlein’s YA novel Podkayne of Mars being a memorable one) and was entranced with that means of letting the story unfold.

    I like to sit my characters down and have them talk to each other. Usually, most of the dialog winds up in the story, but sometimes it’s just a way for me to figure out what they think of each other initially, as well as how they interact, and what their voices (vocabulary, dialect, etc.) sound like.

    • dlgunn

      Ohh, I’ll have to check out Podkayne of Mars. The only novels I’ve ever read in the diary format were the first two or three in a rather long series about pioneer kids in Canada.

      Letting characters talk to each other before you start a story is another great way to add depth, although like you I often find these “exercises” become scenes in the story…

  • I think this is a great idea. I’m currently struggling with my main character – he’s too perfect. Yes, I know he needs a lie he believes and an emotional wound, but I need a personality to build that off. Writing his diary or some letters might help me find his character and his voice.

    • dlgunn

      Too perfect, eh? I usually find myself with the opposite problem–apparently there IS a limit to how sarcastic my characters can be while still being loved *sigh*

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • dlgunn

      Hehe, I haven’t written an actual letter since to a real person since I was a kid with pen pals! That said, I’ll be writing one soon, as I’m mailing one of my cousins in the UK a signed copy of my book.

  • This is so cool! I’ve never thought about writing letters as my character, but what I genius idea! Definitely something I’ll be using in the future! 😀

  • I like this idea. As a discovery writer, I almost never know what a character is going to be until I finish the draft. I’ve tried to plan ahead, filled out character sheets, searched the internet for pictures, and then after the draft, I go back and the people in the draft are nothing like the preplanned sheets.
    I’m going to try this, and see what happens.

    • dlgunn

      I totally understand your struggle! I’m largely a discovery writer, in terms of plot at least, but my characters often emerge in my head almost fully formed, and my part is just to figure out what’s going on in the background.

  • Da-doy. Why didn’t I think of that? Writing letters between characters is a brilliant idea, and a nice change of pace from journaling. Love it. I also like a certain quantity of epistolary in a novel, but not the whole thing. And you’re right. There are so many bland character breakdown templates online. I had created my own at one point, but now I do something a little more basic plus journaling. I’m excited to incorporate the letter writing into my character development process though, perhaps with the book I’m plotting right now. *brain cogs whip into action* Thanks for posting this amazing piece of advice to the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. I’m going to schedule this for a Facebook post, well post haste.

    • dlgunn

      Glad you like the idea! Personally I DO use character profiles, but I use them at the end, as a way to collect all the information I’ve gathered through writing exercises in one place.

      Good luck with your own letters & thanks for stopping by!

  • Very interesting. I’ve never written a dear diary style letter. I guess my version it to put a character in a scene and see what happens. I’m going to have to try your technique and see if it works for me.

    • dlgunn

      Exactly! My current set of letters has also proven to be a great warm up for a serial fiction project I’m working on.

  • I love this idea! I will definitely try it with a few of my characters. Two of them have already written letters (albeit to other characters) within the narrative, but I had never thought to try a few in diary format. Thanks for this post 🙂

  • Fascinating idea. I’ve never tried using diary entires of letters as a way of learning about characters but it sounds like it could open things up a lot. Thank you 😊

  • I am stealing this!! This is amazing advice!! I think I may do the “Dear Diary” challenge first and then dive into the letters!!

    Thank you for sharing!!

  • Interesting. I’ve also found character sheets to be no fun to write or fill in. I will have to try this. And anything to trick myself into writing more short stories!

    • dlgunn

      Me too! I think they’re a holdover from most genre writers having their worldbuilding/storytelling start as RPG players. Character sheets for books are awfully similar to the ones for RPGs.

  • Great advice! This is how I’ve found my last few MCs’ voices. I have them write notes to themselves, letters to their mothers, their friends, their superiors, etc. to see the range of their attitudes and vocabulary. Luckily, my CPs made me cut the tidbits I tried to sneak into the text, but the voice remained clear.

    • dlgunn

      That’s awesome! I usually don’t do that many different notes for any one character, except sometimes my main character, but I’m sure it’s super helpful!

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