Plot is important. You’ve gotta have a great setting. Evocative imagery, strong dialogue, prose that stands the test of time… All of these things are important in the quest to be a writer who stands out in a very large crowd. But what defines great literature time and again, from Charles Dickens to James Lee Burke to JK Rowling and everyone in between?
To truly resonate with a reader, you must create characters who breathe. You have to know what they think, how they feel, who they hate and why they hate them. How do you do that? With work, my friend. Blood and sweat and tons of time. There are a few shortcuts to get you where you’re going, however; this character meme I put together is one of my favorites. I usually go through it with all of my major characters, and occasionally will even go through the list with a minor player if I can’t quite get a fix on them. Can you answer these questions for the characters you’re putting on the page?
(1) What was your first car?
(2) Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
(3) Favorite color?
(4) Favorite movie?
(5) Describe your first kiss.
(6) Cat or dog person?
(7) Favorite food?
(8) Famous person you most resemble?
(9) If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be doing?
(10) Where do you want to retire?
(11) Favorite sport? Do you prefer playing or watching?
(12) Which parent are you closer to?
(13) Favorite childhood memory?
(14) Worst childhood memory?
(15) One thing no one knows about you.
(16) Three words friends would use to describe you.
(17) Life of the party or wallflower?
(18) Favorite book?
(19) Who is your hero or heroine?
(20) What is your animal spirit?
Take a little bit of time to have your characters answer these questions, and I promise you’ll have a better handle on who they are, where they come from, and — most importantly — where they’re going with your story. Good luck!