A Novel Approach: Number 13: Characters, First Lesson

An author must be able to write characters, fiction or non-fiction, who are memorable. But — how does one do it? The answer, briefly, is that for each character who truly is worthy of being in your story or book, you must make him/her a real person, not just a lawyer, a computer whiz, a gunnery sergeant. How do you really find out who a person is? Listen in when s/he is writing a will or making a final confession – that’s when you know what’s in their heart.

For every character of any importance, you have to know the answer to these questions. When you do, you will begin to know who they are:

1. What is his (for convenience) most valued possession?
2. Who would he give it to? (or, Who must not be allowed to have it?)
3. What does he consider his greatest achievement in life?
4. What is his greatest failure?
5. If he suddenly became wealthy (or impoverished), what would he do differently?
6. To whom does he give credit, or blame, for being in the position he is in?
7. What is the event in his life that he considers to have brought him to where he is now?
8. What would he do differently if he had the choice?
9. If he could be omnipotent for a day and save only one life, whose would it be? Or, if he could take a life, whose would it be?
10. What is his greatest secret?
11. Who would he want never to learn it?

And, finally, perhaps the most important of all

12. What does he think about at night when the lights are out, or on long car drives with the radio off?

Will you use all those facts? No, probably not, at least not as scenes in a story. But when you do write a scene and your character is in it, your intimate knowledge of that character will come through on the page. It will. Readers will believe you are writing about a real person. They will.

This was the first serious training I was given in writing academy and it has been the most successful for me. I hope it works for you. See you in a week or so.
Jack