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.
Is he alone or madly focused on composing? Does everyone in the bar have their eyes on him? Is he flying across country wanting to smother the old man snoring by his side? Has his checked his children’s bedrooms a dozen times since the break in? Does his back hurt too much for him to sleep?
Is she just getting up for work? Does she wake to write down her dreams, convinced they mean something? Is she reaching for the man by her side or turning her back to him, tears sliding down her cheeks? Is the cat asleep on her head again? Does she pace the room, debating whether she should pop yet another sleeping pill? Where are her slippers? Her favorite books? Her clothes laid out for tomorrow?
Does he wake up now so no one will see him leave his apartment, no one will know? Is he sweating? Trembling because the sickness has taken ahold of his entire body? Or because he’s going through withdrawal? Is he calling his father to tell him he’s sorry because he knows he’ll never pick up in the night? How many lights does he have on the phone? Is there food by his bed? Cigarettes? The Catcher in the Rye, his favorite book from high school?
Did her cold keep her up sneezing all night? Does she crawl under the covers to hide from the light? Is she the only one running on dark streets? Is she rocking the baby and singing that song her mom used to sing her, botching up the lyrics wonderfully? Is she counting the minutes until he gets off the plane? Rolls over and goes to shower? Says the three words she’s been waiting to hear her whole life. “I’m leaving you.”
Is his headache keeping him from getting out of bed? Does he snap open the paper and read for hours upon his Egyptian cotton sheets? Do yoga in bed? Close his eyes and pretend to be making love to his late wife? How many soaps are in the shower waiting for him? What kind? Is his bathroom dirty? Does he nick himself shaving? Often or almost never?
Is she quiet when she gets up, or does she blare “What’s Going On?” by the Four Non-Blondes? Does her dog pounce on her, anxious to go out? Does her teenage daughter slam the doors and curse because her son has claimed the bathroom first? Is she well-rested? Excited about the day? Dreading every moment that’s to come? What’s the first mirror she looks in? Is she at peace with what she sees? Did the garbage truck wake her up again? The birds? Her husband with a scary-confused look on his face?
Is he late again? How many cups of coffee does he consume? Does he wake up on the street next to a homeless guy? Is traffic the thing that’s going to make him seriously lose it? Does he whistle on his way into the office? Check his phone a million times? Overly tip the cab driver? Is he sure that she’ll see the zit that’s formed a crater on his face? Or the stupid ways his legs look in gym shorts? Or will she make fun of how he croaks when he’s called upon in class?
Does she ride with friends to work to save on gas? Or is that just what she says, but she appreciates that they’re built-in designated drivers after their late nights? How much time did she spend on makeup? Her hair? Her presentation? Does she open the fridge and cringe at how little food there is to pack in each of the brown bags her kids take to school? Is there a wine spill on the living room carpet she has no idea how it got there? But fears it has something to do with her fourteen-year-old and the friend she had over last night? Is she self-conscious about her breath, lack of bras that fit, scuffed shoes?
Does he take the first meeting of the day outside? Is a kayak ride exactly what he needed this morning? A good lay? More drugs? More money? Less stress? Some kind of reconnection to the faith he had in his youth? Is he already tired? Hyper-energized and annoying everyone in the office around him with his inappropriate jokes he hopes will get him fired someday soon?
Is she staring at naked body in the mirror? Pumped at the weight she lost? Mad about the breast she lost? Terrified at not knowing more about the virginity she lost? Does she make a list of pros and cons to finally make up her mind? Or a grocery list? Or reasons to die or not to die? Is she crazy bubbly or depressingly dull at this hour? Does she wish everyone could see the party side of her that comes out during late night hours? Is she going to confront her professor, scared he will flunk her if she goes in with the truth?
Does he quit and go buy a boat? A flight? A tennis racket? Is his belly grumbling and he finds himself cursing his stomach staple surgery? Does he get embarrassed when his cheeks flush, afraid everyone at school will say his girly? Is he “too” girly? For himself? His dad? Why does he care? Is he tired of caring? Does he put on his new super expensive sneakers, but then find himself cleaning them off every hour so they won’t get dirty? Does he buy his friend lunch? Does he climb the tree he knows is outside her window? And stalk her? Propose to her? Knock and smile?
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.
*Excited to launch my new website. Goal is for launch is this summer!