writing your way into a character

Originally, An Autumn Tale was conceived to be a young adult fantasy, and it was supposed to be Peter’s story. Yet I was having a terrible time seeing the story through Peter’s eyes.

My writing instructor suggested writing several scenes from different characters’ points of view to see which character seemed to carry the story the best. It was Lucian who spoke the strongest, and the more I wrote about him, the more I realized An Autumn Tale was Lucian’s story. From that point forward, plot points and characters fell into place.

So when I hit snags with my other characters, I started writing my way into their personalities too. Here are a few tricks I used that you might enjoy trying:

  • Write a scene where your protagonist describes the antagonist in his/her own words. Write it in first person even if you’re writing your story or novel in third person. Flip it and have your antagonist describe your protagonist. You can also have other characters describe one another and you might be surprised at what you find.
  • Write a scene from each character’s point of view until you find the character that speaks the strongest.
  • Write a scene where your character tells someone else about the circumstances surrounding his/her birth or childhood.
  • Write a scene where your character tells someone about his/her parents.
  • Write a scene where your character describes one life-changing event that forever changed his/her way of thinking and believing in the world.

You’ll be amazed at the things you find out about your characters and you can weave these details into your story to provide more depth. I have pages of scenes that never made it into An Autumn Tale but each scene gave me valuable character insight that I was able to use.

So now it’s your turn: what do you do to get in touch with your characters when you’re beginning a novel or story?

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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12 Responses to writing your way into a character

  1. Kelly Bryson says:

    I just start writing. Thinking and thinking gets me nowhere. Somehow when I let them speak, they come to life. Great post!

    • Teresa says:

      Hi, Kelly! This is the fun part for me, just free-writing notes and seeing how things go. Then when I’ve got a good grip on my characters, I like to move ahead and start formulating the plot lines.

  2. T.S. Bazelli says:

    Good suggestions! I’ve been struggling with deciding whose point of view to write from lately. I should try this out.

  3. Jan O'Hara says:

    These are all great. I’ve had many scenes I’ve discovered, only after writing from a different POV, that I began with the wrong character as narrator.

    A similar idea I’ve heard Barbara O’Neal speak of is to have the character write a letter to you, the author, to explain why you’re off track. Or to tell you the five pivotal events of their life.

    • Teresa says:

      That’s another great idea, Jan. I also do charts, linking characters together, anything to move toward the plotline I need.

  4. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? *laughing* – out me arse, off the cuff, out of chaos comes something, the black hole provideth *laugh*

    • Teresa says:

      LOL, that’s great, Kat! I rely on the black hole too, I’m foundering in mine right now trying to find this guy’s plot . . . oh, man, that was funny!

  5. Nora Weston says:

    Hi! Fantastic post. 🙂

    When I hit a snag with a character, I imagine waking up with that person and then I make notes about that day from beginning to end. For example, eating habits, music preferences, colors of clothes, style or lack of style with fashion, weird habits, perfumes, neatness, talent, etc. are all things I consider while developing a character.

    I also take notes about the character’s environment…like if the person lives in a big city, I have to know what his, or her, mode of transportation is and if an apartment, condo, or a rented room is “home” for this character…if the character has a home that is. I try to think about what this person would see, hear, touch, etc. on this day. This gets me started as I figure out everything that makes this character unique.

    • Teresa says:

      Those are great, Nora. I know some of the best advice I’ve heard about starting a novel is to have your character begin a normal day, then have something extraordinary happen to them to start his/her story. Your advice clearly shows how to know what a normal day is! I like that and I think I’ll use that, as well.

      I also use music. I like to find an arrangement that reflects the essence of my protagonist, and Guillermo is starting to come clear to me now.

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. lawrenceez says:

    Hi, I like the suggestion you make about having a character talk about their birth and childhood.

    Also, consider experimenting with writing in Second Person to get a different perspective on troublesome scenes.

    btw – my second novel is starting to unfold now.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Lawrence,

      I’m so glad your second novel is coming along well. That’s an interesting thought to write in Second Person. I’ve never tried it, but I think I will sometime just to get a feel for that viewpoint.


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