Q is for Quizzing Your Characters

by Mr Uku

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There comes a time in every story where you suddenly think to yourself, “What the hell am I writing?”

Panic sets in as your characters start doing things you hadn’t envisioned them doing. This would normally be great, after all it should make the writing easier if your little actors are doing their own thing.

Trouble is, it can mess things up. If you’ve planned your plot then you’re expecting things to go a certain way. That involves your characters doing certain things. But as they evolve it can leave your plot looking clumsy.

You might, for example, find that you’re so concerned with sticking to your plot outline that you start to force your characters to act out of character. They won’t sit right in the story and can leave you with a plot that just doesn’t flow properly.

Alternatively, you might let your characters do what they need to do but find that it takes you away from your original plot outline. That can be fun and is exactly what pantsters enjoy when writing their stories. Unfortunately it can result in you writing yourself into an unforeseen corner with no obvious way out.

Avoiding both of these problems comes down to knowing your characters. The books will tell you that you need to know your character inside out before you start writing, but sometimes you get so excited about your idea that you just want to get on with it. But if your characters are causing plot issues then you have no choice, it’s time to stop for a spot of procrastination.

I recommend you have a word with your characters and a great way to do this is with a questionnaire or interview.

As soon as you find yourself being dragged away from your plot or find yourself unsure about what your characters are trying to do, stop. Get your notebook out or open a new word processor window and start to ask you character some questions, such as

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • What do you hope to achieve by diverting things this way?
  • Are you drunk?
  • Do you think you’re real or something?
  • Why do you want me to rob this bank?

Let them speak in their own voice and explain their motives. Once you understand what they’re up to you’ll be able to see where the plot is going. Remember I keep saying that procrastination is all about taking a step back from your WIP? Well now do you understand?

Seeing where your plot is going will also allow you to more accurately predict how other characters will react. Because once one person does something you didn’t expect it will have a chain reaction, like the butterfly effect. Your only hope is to keep ahead of your characters. Knowing, or at least having a better idea, of what is about to happen because of the actions of one person will make it much easier to keep going.

Having written out your character interview you can relax with a drink and have a bit of a mull before getting back to work. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.

And that’s why procrastination can be useful.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo Carroll April 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Great questions – and much more useful than asking people what they have for breakfast.

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Mr Uku April 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Exactly. Everyone knows breakfast goes: Honey Nut Cornflakes from Monday to Friday, marmalade on toast on Saturday and boiled egg on Sunday. There’s literally no reason to ask.

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