Did a fun exercise today for my two novels: I downloaded a meme a while back for original characters, and I decided to run the characters for my two nano novels through their paces. You list ten characters, and then answer questions like, “4 invites 2 and 7 over for dinner. What happens next?” or “Why was 6 afraid of 7?” (which, for my book, is actually a major plot point…)
Some of the questions just didn’t work (my 4-year-old is not going on a date. Period.), and some had pretty unsurprising answers, but in a few cases, I learned some important things about my characters. I learned that one of my protagonists would absolutely throw a stranger under the bus to save herself, and that gives her the same pragmatism as one of the other characters in the book, something I may want to play up for story purposes. I learned that one of my male characters is definitely straight, but would totally flirt with another man just to make the guy uncomfortable, because he loves stirring the pot. Lots of subtle discoveries that flesh out how I might have them react in certain scenes, or even what scenarios I might want to throw in, just to draw out some aspect of their personalities.
In a way, it’s like drawing. I often draw my characters and their families because as I fine tune the rough sketches and get closer to a face or gesture that feels true to them, I’ll often realize, “Oh, this character isn’t just stern, he’s defensive; you can see it in his shoulders and the set of his jaw. Let me explore why that is a bit more in the writing.” By letting the character have a life outside the story, I learn what I need to make them work better within the story itself.
Am I alone in this, or do you guys do this, too?