When you’re in the brainstorming stages of writing a novel it’s invaluable to take the time to get toknow your characters. This doesn’t mean you’ll end up including all the things you might discover about your MC (main character). It only means you’ve done your homework and you’ve gotten to know your characters so well you won’t even hesitate when thinking about how they’d respond to certain situations.
I’m breaking up the clock to help you ask some imperative character questions. The following will enable you to get better acquainted with those most important to your story, which will in turn create a more believable, dynamic novel.
What is your MC’s favorite food? Is she eating lunch alone? Does she binge eat or peck away at her food? Does she skip lunch all together because she’s too busy working? Is she on a night shift and still sleeping at this hour? Is she tired of turning down an annoying coworker’s lunch invitations? Is she throwing Lunchables on the table for her four grumbly children?
Does he keep track of every hour, obedient to his OCD tendencies? Is he polite, holding doors for those behind him when he reenters his work building? Does he have a crush on every woman he gets in the cab with but has no idea how to initiate a conversation? Does he chew his subordinates out in a holy tirade if they’re late to the office after lunch but he’s always late himself? Is there a quick trip to the dry cleaner? The bar? The woman he looks after at the nursing home down the street from his office?
Is she a loud yawner? Does she beat herself up for staying out late one too many nights in a row? Is she dead to the world on the couch, desperate to find the remote? Does she have makeup on and is it wearing off by now? Does she take her earrings off every afternoon at this time? Is her best friend waiting to gossip with her at the water cooler? Online? At the mall? What does her home look like at this time? Immaculate because the cleaning crew just finished or a tornado of toys because it was her turn to host the playdate?
Is he worked up, regretting the email he sent her last night? Does he take the dog for a three hour walk? What snack is he craving? Are there people waiting to hear back from him he keeps blowing off for some reason? Does he take his sweater off, afraid he’s going to sweat too much and everyone will know? Is this the time of day he goes to war with his headaches? Has he gone to a doctor? Is he afraid too because of what happened to his dad?
Does she get her second wind? Is she tempted to hit on her boss? Is she scared the gym coach will be waiting for outside the locker rooms? Does it take everything inside her not to quit because she needs this job to feed her kids? Is she pouring her first drink? Her fourth? Is her best friend complimenting her clothes again this week in attempt to hide that she’s been sleeping with her husband? Is she signing up for her first missions trip? Does the idea of spending the rest of the night alone depress her beyond belief? Is she excited to see her boyfriend after he’s spent years serving abroad?
Is he going on his first date ten years after his wife died? Is he cursing with the windows down in traffic, cutting people off left and right? Is he dreaming of another life, one where he doesn’t has to face his ailing mom and deadbeat dad when he gets home? Is he about to get a promotion? Is his receding hairline pissing him off so he yells at his kids and then feels bad about it? Does he scrub up before surgery or forget one time, then fight fears for the rest of the night?
What kind of home does she live in? Is a meal on the table? Does she check online to whip something up for her family? Has she secretly thrown out her food for weeks while her parents applaud her for her excellent grades and her nomination to student government? Who is excited to eat dinner with her? Who isn’t? Does she talk to the homeless man on the step before she enters her apartment or does she shove his bottle aside and kick him a little to make sure he’s not dead?
Is he on deadline and hasn’t stopped running all day? Do his eyes blur when he pulls her picture out of his desk drawer, running his thumb over her impressionable smile? Does he run seven miles every night at this time? Is his beer belly starting to grow? Is he rooting for his favorite team at the bar with his friends? Or by himself as he wonders when the hitman will every show up? Does he wish he could go to all the nicer restaurants in town, counting the small change in his wallet? Or is he at a fine restaurant wondering when all this—the chandeliers, the over attentive waiters, the tiny displays of food on his plate became important to him?
Is she going to join the circus tonight against her parents’ wishes? Does she wish she had just one more month left to spend with her growing grandkids? Is nothing on TV so she decides to visit the dealer on the corner? Or sleep with her neighbor after he’s pursued her for months? Does she already have her pajamas on or stilettos? Is she exhausted after another day wheeling around her handicapped child but she’s never felt more fulfilled in her life? Is she going to make the call? Write the letter? Take the risk? Or just go to bed early?
Does he buy wine for the party where everyone will be straight but him? And does the hostess know? Will she treat him weird? When does he pop the question to his girlfriend and will she think it’s only because she told him she’s pregnant? Does he down two fingers of scotch or abstain because…? Does he avoid going to bed because sleep is futile? Is it time to go to the hospital to finally see her? Or time to see the doctor about that little problem? Why, he wonders, does nighttime always bring so many questions?
Is she watching the game? Writing her dissertation? Snacking for the hundredth time today? Does she beat herself up over telling him her secret earlier today? Can she trust him? Is her bed comfortable? Are there crumbs in it? Too many memories of random lovers? Does she write in her diary that she’s afraid? Her journal? Say it as a prayer she’s not sure will be heard?
Does he sleep with the lights on because that’s what he’s done ever since the attack? Or since his time in prison? Does he call and hang up? Is he reading that thriller he can’t put down and secretly wonders if it’s time he take a stab at writing? Does he wrestle with whether he loves her, twisting the sheets around himself like a mummy? Or is he wrapping his arm around her waist, breathing in the sweet scent of her shampoo? Is he playing a late game of soccer? Or planning his trip to Paris? Or fighting demons in his sleep? Does he doubt anyone cares he’s alive? In the darkness, is he letting go for the first time ever?
If you ever get stumped while writing a novel ask questions like the above. Don’t settle for the usual suspects. Probe. Dig. Go out of your way to get to know your characters. They’ve been waiting.
As June Carter Cash would say, “Time’s a Wastin’” so get to it! It’s time to bring some characters to life.