Novel Planning Phase Two: Getting Into Character
Some authors get very detailed when building their characters. They can tell you a character’s favorite color, favorite food, dream job, dream date, birthday, and what s/he had for lunch last Tuesday.
I rarely know these details about my characters – not in the beginning and maybe not ever. I focus more on the 9-1-1 than the 4-1-1. Who or what is opposing the character, and how is s/he going to respond?
I do have a set of questions that I answer about my core heroes and villains.
- Extrovert (active) or Introvert (reactive)?
In the Love Across Londons series, Victoria Smith is an active extravert. Tori loves being around people, has tons of friends, and gets mopey if she’s alone for too long. Charles Stratford is a reactive introvert. He prefers intimate conversations, thinks (maybe overthinks?) before acting, and gets tired if he has to be “on” for too long.
Why does this matter? Because these are real-world personality traits that we encounter – and display – every day. Characters who act like “real people” do seem more genuine than those who don’t. Even if readers can’t believe a story, they will (hopefully) believe how the heroes behave in a story.
- Specific Archetype?
The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson describes the six archetypes I use. These include Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Altruist, Magician, and Innocent. Even though The Hero Within isn’t specifically for authors, it took my storytelling to another level.
By using archetypes, I eliminate one of the great pressures of writing: making it all up as I go.
Wait a second. Isn’t that what authors do? Isn’t fiction the opposite of fact?
Yes and no. When I write, I’m less concerned with “making it all up” than making it seem authentic. My characters and plots are my own, of course, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be realistic (even when characters are doing unrealistic things – like traveling through time).
By applying the “blueprints” of human behavior, authors create bridges of believability to unbelievable situations.
- What does s/he really want?
- What does s/he really fear?
These last two questions keep the story moving and grooving.
In She Hates Me Not, what does Lou Aucoin really want? To be safe. What does she really fear? That she’ll be discovered and punished for her father’s crimes.
So who shows up in her life? A paparazzi magnet who’s perfect for Lou.
What does Kip Richmond really want? To be loved for himself, not his reputation or money. What does he really fear? Never finding that love.
So who shows up in his life? A reclusive playboy-hater who’s perfect for Kip.
Bazinga! We have a story!
Answering these four questions allows me to write with confidence. I never have to guess what a character might do. I know because the character is like you and me. They follow the blueprints of human behavior.