Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ten Questions to Ask Your Characters

By Jax Hunter

You’re building a character. His name is Eric Cruz. You’ve established his age, his family history, his looks, his profession. You may have tagged him with an Enneagram, or perhaps sent for his astrological chart. You may have filled in an elaborate questionnaire, noting what kind of car he drives, where he went to school, what political party he joined.

Here are a few off-the-wall questions that might spark both new layers to your characters and plot twists you can use. 


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1. In your life, what constitutes homeostasis? Let me explain this question a bit. In our physical bodies, homeostasis is the inner equilibrium maintained by the constant adjustment of physiological processes. In fiction, especially in the heroic journey prototype, we start our stories with the character’s ordinary world. This is homeostasis. Then, something happens to our character that throws off his balance and he spends the rest of the book seeking homeostasis. But if we don’t know what that looks like for each of our characters (or better, what he thinks it looks like) how can we set up conflict that will do the most to disturb this delicate balance? After all, our job is to torture our characters, push them as far as we possibly can without destroying them.

2. If you won a million dollars in the lottery, what would you do with the money? The answer to this question tells you about your character’s values.

3. If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

4. What is your biggest regret?

5. Define success.

6. If you had to flee from rising flood waters and could only take one possession, what would it be and why?

7. If you weren’t doing what you’re doing for a living, what would you be doing?

8. What is worth dying for?

9. Do you believe in luck?

10. Who is your best friend? Why is he your friend? What do you admire most about him?

I mentioned earlier that you might have worked up an astrological chart on your character or tagged him with an Enneagram type. These, among others, are tools I use regularly to create my characters. 


The Enneagram is made up of nine core personality types. Each type has its own distinct characteristics but also takes on characteristics of those on either side of it. The types are: Perfectionist, Helper, Achiever, Romantic, Observer, Questioner, Adventurer, Asserter and Peacemaker. Each profile will show you how that type reacts to certain situations, tendencies and things they would never do. I love this last one and often spend time thinking about what could possibly make my character do something that he would “never do.”

Two quick and easy resources for Enneagram are: The Enneagram Made Easy and Are You My Type, Am I Yours? Both by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele. Of course, there are also many references online.

Another option is to work up a profile based on your character’s astrological sign. A Scorpio will act and react completely differently than a Capricorn. With my PJ series, I went so far as to give each person a birth date, time and location. Then, I went online and plugged those facts in to get a free astrological chart for each character. Did I use all that I got? Not by a long shot. But it did give me some great ideas for conflict.

One of my favorite books on Astrology is: The Complete Book of Astrology by Caitlin Johnstone. Mind you, I am not even attempting to be an expert on astrology. I am simply using the tool to create characters.

Another resource for building characters is the classic archetypes that go back even to Greek mythology. Two super resources for this: 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. (Am I the only one who always thinks of Lethal Weapon when I hear the name Victoria Lynn? - sorry, I digress.) Second, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders.

Disclaimer: You don’t have to believe in any of this stuff to use it for character building.

Well, that’s it for this month. Final thoughts: have fun building characters. It’s one of the best parts about writing fiction. Get to know your characters. You’ll find that they become great friends. I have one character that has a major aversion to Peeps. So every Spring, when the yellow marshmallow birdies hit the shelves, I always smile and think of Nic. Then, of course, I run for my life.

Until next month, BIC-HOK (Butt in Chair – Hands on Keyboard).

Jax

www.jaxmhunter@gmail.com and www.revive1775.com

About the Author:  Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent post with important information that I'm bookmarking right now. Thanks!

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  2. I'm glad you explained what homeostasis is. ;) I definitely think #4 and #8 are important things to know about our characters.

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