Exploring the Vulnerability of Characters

Thanks to Pixabay for the image!


Getting to know the characters we write is crucial in creating a credible and believable story We need well-rounded people whose voices are clear and consistent. There are heaps of ‘how to’ books out there – some more intellectual than others (I’ve probably read most of them over the years).

When formulating my characters, I start with the basics, which you can read about here from the Writers Workshop (a great ‘normal speak’ article) and then I like to go deeper and have some real fun. I love to explore their vulnerabilities. Here are 5 things I’ve done in the past to get a deeper understanding of the people in my stories.
  1. Drop them into a situation way out of their comfort zone and see how they cope – Eg: How would Jack Reacher cope as a trainee cook in Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsey?
  2. An interview with Oprah – what would be revealed? Would they jump on the couch like Tom Cruise or really open their hearts to reveal something that’s been hidden for decades.
  3. Put them face to face with one of their fears – a room filled with spiders, lock them in a confined space, make them look over the edge of the tallest building. Do they conquer their fear or wither into despair?
  4. Take away their vice: cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate, etc – what emotions do they experience? What do they do instead of smoking, drinking, eating? Do their lives become more fulfilled or do they give up and revert to old habits?
  5. Book them on a parabolic flight (Zero-G). Would they actually turn up at the airfield? How would they feel on the way up? Would they throw up on the way down? Would they want to do it again? What fun! (And because it’s make believe, it doesn’t cost a cent.)
There are so many ways to really get to know your characters. Without doing the basics before you start writing your novel, many inconsistencies will show up – and the editor (or worse, the reader) will pick up on every one of them. So my advice: do the legwork and build your characters so that they stand up, fully formed. But most importantly, never forget to have fun!

What do you do to get to know your characters?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!



Comments

  1. I take them with me when I go for a walk, food shopping, to the post office and try to see things as they would.

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  2. An interview with Oprah. Love it! When I was younger, I used to pretend I was talking to Oprah about my book. :P

    Happy Thanksgiving, Nicola!

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    1. I would love to have a good conversation with her over a glass of wine (the wine is so I'll actually speak and not go all gaga :))

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  3. Very interesting points, Nicola. I think there are all sorts of ways writers get to know their characters and I like Patsy's method too! One thing I have never been able to do is to write any kind of biography for them first. I think about them in my head in relation to the story the hero and heroine are about to face, but it is only when I start to write and the characters interact with one another that they develop and grow into real people for me. Another magical thing that happens is when a character (or more) who I never envisaged enters the story - again, it's that organic way of writing. You can tell I'm not a plotter or planner!

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    1. When I first started writing, I did no planning or characterisation. I just made it all up in the moment, which consequently led to a few problems in my novel writing. Live and learn :) Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. I really appreciate it.

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  4. I shoot them in the chest. That's always good for self examination.

    Wish you a happy turkey day too. :)

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    1. LOL! You do make me laugh :) Congrats on SEEker 4, Mac.

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    2. Ask them their theories on child rearing. Everyone has an opinion on that, especially if they have no children!

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    3. That's an excellent one!! And so appropriate for my current novel characters who are having a hard time in life. Thanks for that.

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    4. I used to think kids should be put away at 6.00 pm ... and let us get on with our lives ... still the same - but not so much - I realise there's hope with all the kiddos ... and I like Mac's idea ... as too Patsy's ...

      Cheers - now I'll be thinking about characters all day and I don't do novel writing ... Hilary

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  5. I just keep imagining things that happen to my characters. When I get lost in my head, I get REALLY lost. It's a lot of fun.

    Happy Thanksgiving back at you, even if you're not here. You can still have a great Thursday, right? :)

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    1. I love that lost feeling :) Have a great day!

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  6. Great idea! I bet you know your characters inside and out, not to mention making them sing for their supper;)

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    1. They sing their hearts out! :) Thanks for popping over Sandra.

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  7. I haven't really thought about that. I tend to just put them in conversations about nothing.

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    1. Conversation is always good. For us too :) Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

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  8. I stay open to my characters desires, and knowing them as well as I know the rest of my family. Scary sometimes but a surprising journey too. I always write a scene about their childhood that helps define their motivations even though it seldom gets into the book. For me understanding their childhood is key.

    Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

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    1. I need to explore more about their childhood - you are so right. Have a lovely Thanksgiving. We don't have it over here but I will be thinking of you all. Very jealous - Turkey! Enjoy.

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  9. Killer ways to get to know your characters better! I use rejection - love, job, idea and see how they cope, a dose of dumping does the trick :)

    Hope you are having an amazing day.

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    1. A dose of dumping is always fun :) Thank you for popping over, Nila. Lovely to see you.

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  10. These are really good ideas for ways to get to know your characters. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Ha Ha. I like Nila's idea of a dose of dumping! I love your post and it's always good to hear how other authors approach characterisation. I fall in love with my characters and find it hard to make them suffer, but now have 2 critique partners who are relentless. They come up with great ideas and I'm getting better at upping the stakes!!

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    1. Great to hear your critique partners are helping. Thank you for popping by to comment Denise. Always lovely to see you.

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  12. Pretty extreme circumstances to test your characters. Are you sure you aren't projecting your own reactions to these situations?

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    1. Maybe the flight is a bit extreme but some of my tougher characters do need to be tested. The others are just a lot of fun. I don't think I project my own reactions - not in these situations. I enjoy watching other people's reactions to situations, and tend to reflect on them. However, I do draw on my own work experiences sometimes. Thanks for popping over to comment. Have a lovely weekend.

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  13. Testing those characters is really testing ourselves, isn't it? I always put myself in the situation and try to imagine my responses. All I have to do is poise one of my characters on the edge of precipice and break into a sweat. ergo: character breaks into a sweat, gets dizzy, leans over the edge and. . . I have so many near disasters and all at my keyboard. Now you've got me considering a parabolic flight. Thanks for the great post.

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    1. Honestly, if I were given a ticket for a parabolic flight, I'd sell it on Ebay :) I'd need to be heavily tranquilized just to get me to the airfield :)Have a great weekend, Lee.

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  14. Great tips for characterization! "An interview with Oprah" never occurred to me, and it's so clever. Have a great weekend!

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  15. I like the idea of an interview with Oprah - that'd be fun and interesting.
    I hope you're having a great holiday weekend, Nicola.

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    1. Thank you very much, Robyn. You too :)

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  16. What car do they drive and what books do they read are a couple of things that have been suggested to ask my characters.

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    1. I like the idea of exploring their cars/motorbikes etc.

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  17. #4: Jack Reacher would have a huge problem if you took away his coffee:)
    Grin. Hmm, so would I:)
    Have a great weekend, Nicola.

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  18. Yes, interviewing them is great for getting to know them for deep characterization. Awesome post and excellent tips.

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  19. What great tips, Nicola (especially the one where you take away their vice and see how they react). I don't do anything to get to know my characters - they just take over as I write them.

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    1. Thank you, Wendy. I know how I feel when I've given up vices in the past. Not pretty :)

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  20. Such an interesting post, I had no idea how much went into writing a good story. Thank goodness I read more than I write. I am grateful to authors like you who spend so much time getting the detail right.

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    1. Thank you very much, Barbara. I'm so pleased you enjoy reading. I love that too!!

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  21. Those are interesting scenarios! My characters fill themselves out, and most of them are very vulnerable when I get my hands on them. My current MC would definitely cry if she was face-to-face with Gordon Ramsey :-)

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    1. Who wouldn't cry if Gordon Ramsey was in the kitchen? :)

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  22. I agree, pushing characters out of their comfort zone makes for a good plot:) And Happy Holidays to you too:)

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  23. I have done individual stories and interviews with characters before. It's quite eye opening.

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    1. Interviews are always interesting. Hope all is well, Sheena.

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  24. Thanksgiving was great! I've been dropping my heroines into unfamiliar surroundings with my latest three book series. And they're discovering parts of themselves they didn't know existed.

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    1. Sounds like a lot of fun, Susan.

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  25. Great tips. I particularly like #4: Take away their vice. I haven't tried that one, but I will...

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    1. Thank you for popping by, Lynda. Always lovely to see you. I hope your new book is doing well!

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  26. Goodness, I created three posts on this subject for my blog tour. THREE. Each one had different approaches. We touch on many of the same bases. You rock some epic ideas here.

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    1. I loved your blog tour, Crystal. It's good to hear about the different techniques we all adopt to improve our writing and our characters.

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  27. Great tips! I have to say, I don't do much prior exploration. I just throw them into the story and see how they get on. You've got me thinking, though.

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    1. I didn't do any when I first started writing and the inconsistencies showed. Hence, a more technical approach is now used :) Thank you for popping by Nick. I hope all is well up in Scotland.

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  28. Good ideas! I feel I know my characters pretty well, so much so that I sometimes emulate them in real life. That is perhaps worrisome, eh? My friend did point out that I'm never lonely because I have so many voices in my head.

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    1. LOL! Sounds like fun to me, Loni. And how cool - to never feel lonely.

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  29. Awesome tips and ideas to go deep in the characters motivation. Thanks for sharing!

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  30. Great ideas. This really takes us deep in the characters intentions.

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  31. Thank you so much for sharing these terrific tips! They have helped me quite a bit already. Have a wonderful week,
    Rose

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  32. I really like this advice. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters and you mentioned some techniques I haven't tried- like putting them in a situation out of their comfort zone to see how they cope. :) Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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