Think you know your story’s main character? You might not know as much as you think.

A great character is as complex as a living, breathing human being. That means she or he has an extensive galaxy of history, opinions, experiences, and feelings running through her—some of them might even contradict each other.

protagonist

How to Get to Know Your Protagonist

How do you make sure your characters are multidimensional enough to jump off the page and connect with readers? These exercises can help you get there.

1. Go through her purse.

Charlaine Harris shared this great character-building exercises at last year’s Thrillerfest, and it’s a trick she uses to get to know her own new characters.

It’s a good one. A purse is basically a woman’s life in a bag. What they put in their purse—or even whether she carries one or not—says a lot about her.

For male characters who don’t carry a purse, think about what’s in their briefcase, backpack, or pockets.

2. Take your character out to lunch.

Invite your character out to lunch to get to know him or her better—as you might with a new coworker. Where would they want to go? What kind of food would they order? Is she comfortable with that introductory small talk? How can you tell?

The information the character gives you—from where they’re from to what kind of music they like—is character-building gold. But don’t stop there. What is her body language like? What does the character avoid talking about or prefer to keep private?

3. Complete a questionnaire.

There are a number of questionnaires out there to help you get to identify what you should know about your characters, and to discover that critical information. Some are even famously used by legendary writers like Proust.

If this method appeals to you, check out a few different approaches and find what works for your process.

4. Let your character shadow you for a day.

Bring your character along with you for a day, and try to look at your experiences through the filter of that character’s perspective. Would your character make different choices? How does she feel about your commute, your job, or your friends?

Thinking like a character for a day can expose your character’s thoughts and attitudes in a way that can be surprising. To get the most from this exercise, take the time to explore not just what your character feels, but also why she feels that way.

For great characters, dive deep

Character development is not a place to skimp. Well-rounded, multidimensional characters require a great amount of thought and time. Exercises like these can push you to get out of your typical thought patterns and learn even more about your characters.

How do you get to know your characters? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

Pick one of the character exercises above and take it for a trial run. Write for fifteen minutes your thoughts and discoveries about your character as you go. Share your resulting character sketch in the comments!

 

Emily Wenstrom
Emily Wenstrom
By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.