Getting to Know Your Characters

Getting to Know Your Characters

Another tidbit from a few years back that has changed my writing life forever….

In between the required reading in ON WRITING HORROR, I’ve been studying the various essays by the gifted writers enclosed within its pages. The latest nugget of wisdom came from Tina Jens titled “Such Horrible People.” Ms. Jens describes characterization in such a creative and entertaining way that not only have I soaked up her insightful words, but I do believe they have changed the way I write forever.

Within her essay, Tina Jens describes getting to know your characters as well as you would your high school buddies. Their ins, their outs, their quirks, fears, flaws and successes. What makes them tick? Getting to know your characters so well that they are sitting there beside you writing your story for you. Your job as a writer is merely a stenographer, they are in control. After all it’s their story, right?

Yes, I’ve read lots of articles on developing characters but never in such a clear, open manner where it is not only practical, but brings the knowledge down from my gray matter to application. Thank you, Tina Jens, for such an intelligent and entertaining essay.

So to put into practice this new-to-me character-creation process, I’ve interviewed one of my main characters for my current work-in-progress. As it turns out she is nothing like the puppet I created. I got her name, hair color, age and even personality totally wrong. The character that arose from this interview is stronger, more dynamic and a complete improvement over what the puppet-master (me) had created.

Rather than feeling the pressure of creating this novel purely out of my own tedious, task-oriented agenda, I am excited to see what she and the other main characters will show me as their story unfolds. I have more interviews today. One I am particularly nervous about, my villain. He’s a dark, angry creature whose fiery home was recently disturbed. Wish me luck….I’ll keep you posted.

Thank you, Tina Jens and the Horror Writers Association…and to you, thanks for reading!

18 Replies to “Getting to Know Your Characters”

  1. This is very interesting, Ingrid!

    I tried interviewing my characters a couple of times and still felt like I was just filling in the blanks myself, while feeling a bit foolish at the same time. Maybe I should try to give it another go. 🙂

    I’m glad it has brought you new enthusiasm! 🙂

    1. Hi Pearl, thanks so much for reading and for your response! Visualizing my characters as real, capable of entering my office, sitting down and then interacting with me, helped me to get past the same old, boring character-description process. I guess you could say it brought my characters to life for me. As for feeling “foolish”, whenever I feel foolish or embarrassed, I go back to a favorite quote by Arthur Miller – “The best work anybody ever does is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.” Such a great quote! 🙂

  2. Phenomenal book to have in your reference library. I often pull it off the shelf and read a random chapter, which gives me a boost no matter what I’m writing.


    1. Years ago, a writing instructor told me that I had a talent for writing dark fiction. Until then, it never occurred to me to delve into my “dark” side. This book was one of my first investments…

  3. Great idea Ingrid. I hope the interview with the dark figure didn’t end in tears 🙂

    1. LOL No, Christoph, but he did scare the beejeebies out of me as my next blog post will soon tell. Of course, at the time we were living in a very strange house (strange vibes.)

  4. The next time I have to create a character from scratch I will follow this interview way and will let you know if it works also for me. Clever!

  5. Hi Ingrid. Since I’m a non-fiction author, I don’t have to worry about creating a character from scratch. I’m pleased you found a good source for your characters. Of course I do have my favorite reference books and sources on writing memoirs, which are a very different animal 🙂

  6. Very interesting idea. I know when I write I tend very much to write on “the fly” and then spend forever mending plot and character holes during editing. Time perhaps to put more structure into my writing. Thanks for this

  7. I’ve always found great fantasy should include elements of horror just to add a little spice. Great blog.

    1. Hi Chris,

      “I’ve always found great fantasy should include elements of horror just to add a little spice.” – I wholeheartedly agree, and thanks for the feedback!

    1. Donna, I read a blog post recently that used the cocktail party as a character-development methodology. Actually not a bad idea, so I’m thinking that was a compliment. 🙂

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