Diving into your character’s mind

Hopefully by now you have a fairly solid main character to work with if nothing else. You want to know that character as well as you possibly can before you start writing your actual novel.

This is particularly important if all you have is a character, because an entire novel can spring up naturally around a good character you know well. Their family, friends and lovers can become characters and their lives can become plots. You can either discover a period of their life worth writing about, or you can learn how they react to things and throw them an entirely new challenge that will test their strengths.

Every writer uses different techniques to get into their character’s minds. Some use character interviews, others create detailed character charts. Some even dress up as their characters and walk around like them for a day.

My favourite method of getting to know a character is to choose an important moment in the character’s life and write about it in their first person PoV. I usually end up writing my entire novel in first person, so this is particularly productive for me, but even if you’re going to spend November writing in third person it can be useful to see through their eyes for a couple scenes. Knowing how your character sees the world is incredibly useful and more importantly, knowing how they respond to trauma can help you write the most tense scenes in your plot.

By choosing the right moment, you can also learn about their family, friends, loved ones and even their culture as a whole. And as I mentioned last week, if you explore a good character deeply enough, you’ll always find a story worth telling.

If you don’t know much about your character or their culture and you’re having trouble choosing a moment, pick from this list of things most people will experience in their lifetime:

  • Becoming an adult
  • Someone’s funeral
  • Someone’s wedding
  • Leaving their hometown for the first time

Describe the day in as much detail as possible, focusing on how your character sees the world, how they feel and how they react to the world around them. If you’re comfortable sharing, tell me what moment in your character’s life you chose in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Diving into your character’s mind

  • Interesting! I have the opposite thing happen — I know all about the characters, but have to almost interrogate them to find out what they’re doing now and why they think they belong to this story. It’s like having temporary and very flaky imaginary friends.

    • dlgunn

      Hi Katherine,

      Sounds both wonderful and frustrating. Then again, characters always are. The ones I’m going to be working with in November are particularly tight lipped, so I don’t know much about them at all. But as frustrating as it is, I always enjoy figuring out my characters. Sooner or later I get the information I need to create a novel, and sometimes the revelations are quite impressive.

      Do you have characters laid out for this November yet?

      Thanks for stopping by,

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