It's All About Character

#writemotivationIt’s Monday, so it’s time for another #writemotivation goal update.  Last week, with hat in hand, I had to admit I had done nothing to make progress on my WIP.  Sigh… not a great start to the month.  So what’s the progress report for this past week?  It’s a weird one actually.

On the one hand, I didn’t even crack open my WIP document, so a purist could say I made no actual progress.  But with the character work I did this past week, I think I’ve made more progress on my WIP than I have since that frenzied NaNoWriMo month when I wrote the first draft years ago.  With the insight I gained into my characters, this past week will go a long way toward improving my novel.

I’ve always been a plot-driven writer, but with recent feedback, I realized the characters in my WIP were more cardboard-y than I thought.  So at the advice of a fabulous critique partner, I sat down to do some serious character homework before jumping into the rewrite.  I found one of those character worksheets online with tons of questions about appearance, mannerisms, likes, dislikes, etc., as well as the extra important goals, needs, wants, motivations questions.  In the past, I’ve dismissed these type of things as kind of silly – I mean I’m making up these people in my head, of course I know who they are, I don’t need exercises like interviews or POV diary entries to get to know them better.

However, as I started going through these questions for my five main characters, I realized I didn’t know them as well as I thought.  I knew them in the way I needed for the plot to work, but I didn’t know them well enough to make readers see them as three dimensional people because I didn’t even see them that way myself.

I sat there rolling my eyes at how ridiculous it was trying to come up with a favorite book for one of my characters when she was never going to be reading or even talking about books in the novel.  Just to fill in the blank, I typed out The Hunger Games because it’s a book most teen girls read.  But before I moved on, I wondered if she would actually even like the book.  All of the sudden it hit me – she would LOVE it.  She’s the type who considers herself cutthroat enough that she thinks she would easily win the Hunger Games and look fabulous while doing it.  So then I realized: it’s not about knowing your character’s favorite book, it’s about understanding WHY it would be your character’s favorite book.  Yeah, it took me a while, but I finally got there.  

After that, it was fun filling out the rest of the character worksheets.  It didn’t feel like homework anymore because it was no longer a chore to do just to say I did it, instead these characters were becoming real people in my head.  It wasn’t always easy, but as I went through figuring out the answers, I got to know things about my characters I never expected.  And I also discovered things that are going to make plot issues come together and make more sense than they do now, which is a very good thing.  So even if there was not any actual physical progress on the WIP this past week, I feel like I accomplished a lot.  So now this week I’ll be jumping in and figuring out how to get all this new insight onto the page.  

Do you use character questionnaires/worksheets before you start writing?  How do you get to know your characters in a way that makes them feel real?  How did your writing goals go this week?