Saturday, June 11, 2011

Get to Know Your Character With Author Dallas Woodburn

Once upon a time, Peter Pan was just a faceless name. Before The Lord of the Rings, Frodo was merely an image inside Tolkien’s mind. When I was in elementary school, nobody had heard of Harry Potter.

Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? As readers, we often get so attached to our favorite characters that it can be difficult to remember they aren’t real beings but rather figments of an author’s wonderful imagination brought to life on the page. Indeed, I believe one of the most important aspects – if not the most important aspect – of a good story is its characters. The characters are the ones who bring the reader inside the story – and keep her turning the pages to the final sentence. Characters are the ones who make the reader feel like he has a stake in what happens.

How can you create interesting, memorable characters who feel like real people? Get to know them yourself! YA author Joan Bauer once told me she writes 30-page biographies of all her main characters before she even starts writing the book. Now, I’m not saying you need to write a 30-page biography, but you can at least spend a few minutes interviewing your character and getting to know him or her better.

Below are some possible questions to answer in the “voice” of your character. These are just to give you ideas – feel free to jump off into answering your own questions! See where the “voice” of your character takes you!

My name is …
I am ___ years old. My birthday is ____.
I live in …
I like to …
My favorite color is …
My favorite food is …
My favorite type of music is …
My favorite movie is …
My favorite animal is …
My best friend is …
My secret hideout is …
I dream about …
I am obsessed with…
My greatest fear is …
My greatest wish is …
If I had a super power, it would be …
I love …
Something that makes me really angry is …
I worry about …
One day, I hope …

As you get to know your character better, you might find a story developing. Some ideas to get you started:

My happiest memory is …
My saddest memory is …
My most embarrassing moment is…
My favorite holiday has always been…
Last summer, I …
I was terrified when …
My life changed forever when …
The last time I cried was …
One time, I lied about …
I couldn’t believe my eyes when …
I never, ever thought I would …
I knew I was in trouble when …

Do you have any other questions you ask your characters? Share them with other young writers! Email them to me at dallaswoodburn@aol.com and they might be posted on my blog, http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com.

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today’s best youth writing.
She has written more than 80 articles and essays for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, The Los Angeles Times, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she also teaches undergraduate writing courses.

Website: http://www.writeonbooks.org
Blog: http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writerdallas
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dallaswoodburn

11 comments:

Joylene Butler said...

Wonderful post. Great characters live forever, like Tolstoy's Prince Andrei and Natasha. Or even Thomas Harris's Hannabal Lector.

BFuniv said...

Average characters may live forever also, like John Galt or James Bond. While characterization is very important to most stories, exceptions can add to an interesting tale. There are many reasons to leave major characters amorphous.

The real question is what fits the author's voice and the story. Avoid the artificial -- be real.

Every tale worth spinning doesn't need to be perceived as great literature.

salvinder said...

A-books Gratuits : Acceptez de recevoir des livres gratuits selectionnés pour votre developpement personnel et professionnel!
Ebook Gratuit

Pam said...

Very timely reading for me, since I just started incorporating doing character sketches, at least of my main characters, into my writing process. I was also just talking about how I normally don't enjoy epic "alternate world" novels but am totally engrossed in Game of Thrones because of the excellent job the author did with the characters.

Charlene Delfin said...

Creating the characters for a story is the most fun part of writing fiction, but I think that imperfect characters are better than ideal characters. The readers tend to be more interested when the characters are just like them.

Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

You have a fabulous blog! I want to award you the Best Books Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

I invite you to follow me since we have a lot in common, but no pressure. I’m not giving you the award just so you will follow me. You really do deserve it!
Take care:-)

Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
~Deirdra

Kristina Clemens said...

This article is so helpful! I signed a book contract eight months ago and my book is currently being typeset, so all the info I found here on the blog was extremely helpful. New follower here, obviously! =)
Kristina J.

Cozy in Texas said...

Great post.
Ann

Alyn C. said...

You know, it is "written" that any character, comes from a real character, from a real life, and from a powerful affliction.
And, sometimes, I believe that with all my heart! I think the writter is inspired by reality, by what he sees in real situations.
Anyway, these are just my thoughts. Great Blog and keep up the god work!

Alyn C. said...

My character is inspired from real situations ... painful...

Poetry School said...

Thank you to tell us so much useful information. So nice sharing. I’m glad to read it.