When I write, I love to know a lot about my characters. I don’t just want to explore who they are inside my story, I want to think of them as (almost) real people who have full lives and histories. My story is just a glimpse into one part of that fully-lived life.
When I think of my characters in that way, it gives them more depth and gives their actions more meaning. They aren’t just a plot device created for the point I want to make, they are people who are doing their best with the knowledge they have developed over their lifetimes.
One of the ways that I get to know my characters more fully is to write about them in other contexts. I write about where they live, what they eat, who they know, and all kinds of other things that may never make it into my final story.
But Why Do Extra Writing?
All of that exploration gives me a more complete picture of who those characters are and why they behave the way they do. Knowing more about them outside of my story informs my choices within the story. It lets me explore more interesting ideas and themes and bring more context to their actions.
I don’t mean to suggest that you need to write a character’s whole biography before writing them into a piece of flash fiction. Only you will know how much exploration you need to do to get a stronger grasp on your characters.
If you are interested in finding out what ELSE your characters have done or WHY they are making the choices they are, you can start with some of the questions I have listed below.
Feel free to add more useful questions in the comments!
Start with these questions or have a bit of fun making up your own:
- What is your character’s living space like? Is it a house? An apartment? A boat? A tent? How did they end up living there? What does the organization (or lack thereof)in their living space reveal about their personality?
- What would your character order in a restaurant? Why would they order that? What kind of restaurant would it be? Do they have any memories associated with that food? Who are they eating with? Why?
- What does the situation in your story remind them of? How is it the same? How is it different?
- If they could call someone to help with this problem, who would they call? Why? Would it be hard for them to ask for help?
- Once they get through this current situation, what will they do to relax? Why do they choose that? Has that worked for them before?
Rounder Characters Means A Richer Story
When you think about your characters outside of the context of your story, you learn more about them. That, in turn, enhances how you write about and describe them within your story. When you have a full understanding of your characters as people, you make them more real (and more relatable) for your readers.
Creating that connection is one of the most important goals for any writer so why not start chatting with your characters right now?
Note: While you don’t have to write about any of these questions, anyone doing NaNoWriMo or other writing challenges might want to give all of them a try. Doing these sorts of explorations can really rack up your word count!