Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Know your characters

I was talking to a writerly friend yesterday and she has an amazing idea for a novel, but no idea where to start. I've come across Pre-Novel Stress Disorder before. A writer can be so excited about their idea (and maybe it's a BIG idea that involves... gulp... world-building) that they are paralyzed by it - they can't set fingers to keyboard for fear of screwing it up completely. Maybe they think they won't be able to do the idea justice - that they'll never be able to translate what's in their head onto the page. It's a scary business.

So my suggestion was to start small. Get to know your main character. Here's a little questionnaire I provided as a starting point for said writerly friend:

Who’s her best friend? Does she even have a best friend?

Who was her first crush?
Has she ever had a serious relationship?
What does she want to be when she grows up?
How does she feel about herself? Body image?
Is she the kind of person who’s always on the peripherary, or is she more likely to be the centre of attention?
What three words would her friends use to describe her?
What’s her relationship with her parents like?
What is she scared of?
What kind of music does she like?
How many siblings? How do they get on?
Is she a cat person or a dog person?
What makes her happy?
What makes her sad?
What’s her favourite subject at school?
Would she be more likely to text you or call you?

Some fairly obvious questions there. And perhaps it won't help at all, but it's a START. And we all need somewhere to start, don't we?
So how do YOU start a new project? Do you suffer from the dreaded Pre-Novel Stress Disorder? Any tips to share?


  1. I might have to try your questions out.

    My question is how exactly do you stop yourself being distracted by the power of the internet? TV? Great books?

    I think you need someone who has been in your position to answer your question. I do not feel qualified to give advice.

    If you ever feel like writing a post on writing endings or even getting to the end of the book. I would be forever grateful.

  2. Becky- Your wish is my command. I'll work on a post about exactly that!

  3. Oh, great post! Sometimes I dive in too quickly without taking the time to get to know my characters, and then I end up doing a lot of work in the second draft. Thanks for this!

  4. Talli- I dive in too! Planning is my enemy...

  5. oh oh oh I totally agree with Becky! My endings SUCK! Ive actually started a second draft while leaving the ending still hanging... can i do that?

    I don't think I am qualifed to give advice either but I guess my way is to just start scribbling about the character, musing really, bit by bit, kind of like "maybe she likes ..., she might dislike ..." sometimes it evolves and sometimes I resort to the internet and cry 'writers block' haha